grain bin 1022715 1280CHAMPAIGN — To prevent fatalities on the farm during the busy harvest season, Senate Agriculture Chairman Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) is joining the U.S. Department of Agriculture in reminding farmers and farm workers to be cautious when working in and around grain bins.

“Grain handling is always a high-hazard undertaking for farm workers,” Bennett said. “Accidents can happen in a matter of seconds, because moving grain acts like quicksand. If you must go inside a grain bin, make sure you take the proper safety precautions to prevent an accident or injury.”

According to Purdue University’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program, last year alone, there were 38 cases of grain entrapment nationwide, and 23 of those cases resulted in deaths.

Dave Newcomb, Agriculture Program Manager with the Illinois Fire Service Institute in Champaign, reports that Illinois has had 11 grain entrapment cases already this year, four of which were deadly. Newcomb says a late harvest and wet conditions last year caused problems this spring. Wet grain tends to clump and not flow properly through the unloading systems, which can lead workers to enter the bins to rectify the situation.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a worker standing on moving grain will be trapped within just five seconds and completely covered in grain in less than half a minute.

OSHA details the three most common scenarios leading to grain entrapment:
· A worker stands on moving or flowing grain, typically caused by an auger running or grain being moved out of the bin by gravity.
· A worker stands on or below a grain bridging situation. Bridging happens when damp grain clumps together, creating an empty space beneath the grain as it is unloaded. A worker above or below this bridge of grain is at risk should the bridge collapse.
· A worker stands next to an accumulated pile of grain on the side of the bin and attempts to dislodge it. It can collapse onto the worker.

While workers should avoid entering grain bins if possible, safety measures can greatly diminish the risk if they must enter. For example, OSHA recommends workers entering a grain bin wear a body harness attached to a lifeline to prevent accidents. An observer should also be stationed outside the bin to track the worker and call for help if something goes wrong.

The University of Illinois Extension offers other grain bin safety tips here.