Grain Bin Hazards and Safety Precautions

From Westfield Insurance Grains of Knowledge blog, this post focuses on the hazards associated with grain bins, including key precautions that can be taken to reduce workers’ risks while performing duties in, and around, grain bins and grain dust.

Ag Safety: Grain Bin Hazards and Safety Precautions - Grains of Knowledge

Ag Safety: Grain Bin Hazards and Safety Precautions

This post is the first in a series on agricultural safety that will educate readers about the risks associated with various farming and agribusiness jobs, as well as offer helpful tips for reducing and preventing hazards at your family or business operation.

WFI-Grain-Bin1Being a part of the farming and agribusiness industry can be greatly rewarding. In the U.S., families and businesses supply essential produce and consumer goods, support economic growth and contribute to the legacy of American farming.

Members of the agriculture community are aware that certain jobs and farming duties can be more hazardous than others. From operating tractors, to filling and performing maintenance on grain bins, dangers on the worksite are real and should be kept top-of-mind when developing an effective safety program.

This week’s post focuses on the hazards associated with grain bins, including key precautions that can be taken to reduce workers’ risks while performing duties in, and around, grain bins and grain dust.

Grain Bin Hazards and Safety Precautions:
Grain bins are used in a variety of agribusiness operations, including grain elevators, feed mills and farms that grow crops like corn, soybeans and wheat. Workers work in and outside of the bins, loading and unloading the grain, as well as conducting maintenance on the equipment.

Below is a list of some of the most common and hazardous situations that can exist from working with grain bins.
  • Respiratory and skin hazards — Grain dust created by the grain into bins can affect people’s health in varying degrees. While some people may not experience a reaction, others can suffer from difficulty breathing, digestion and stomach problems, or skin irritations and rashes.
 To reduce and prevent allergic reactions to grain bin dust, employees should always wear a dust mask and employers should mandate that all workers on-site wear proper protective gear appropriate for the present condition. For example, if entering a moldy grain bin, workers should be equipped with a high efficiency filter for their respirator. Additionally, all fumigated bins ventilated for several hours.
  • Fire and explosion hazards — Grain dust is also extremely flammable and can be ignited easily by fire, sparks or hot bearings. Mixed with oxygen, the dust can also become highly explosive. 
Several methods can be used to reduce the possibility of a fire or explosion, such as not permitting smoking near the bins, never welding or grinding in a bin that contains grain, and performing routine maintenance checks to avoid machinery failure that causes flammable reactions.
  • Flowing Grain — When workers unload grain, the grain flows out of the bin from the top center, creating a funnel-shaped flow that can submerge a worker waist-deep within a matter of seconds. This can happen as a result of moving the grain too quickly, using larger storage facilities, year-round storage of grain or a lack of awareness of the dangers associated with flowing grain. If this occurs, workers can become entrapped in the grain and suffocate.
Entrapment can be avoided by the following: never enter a grain bin alone or while the unloading equipment is running, do not enter a grain bin with automatic unloading equipment without locking the control circuit, be extremely cautious when working with out-of-condition grain and always have more than two people onsite when working in an uncertain condition.
  • Collapsed Grain Bridge — Grain bridges occur when grain is moldy or during the winter months when it freezes, creating a hard crust on top of the bin. This thick crust can form over a hollow cavity within the bin, and if a worker attempts to walk across this “bridge,” they run the risk of it collapsing. If the grain bridge collapses, a worker is immediately submerged in the grain, trapped several feet below the point of entry. 
Grain bridges can be avoided by maintaining good conditions in the bin that prevent spoilage and bridging of the grain. If grain bridges occur, they look like inverted cones or funnels that appear after unloading. If you suspect a grain bridge exists, use a pole or weighted line to free it from a safe location, such as the bin roof hatch or an inside ladder. Do not walk directly across a grain bridge. 
  • Grain Wall Avalanche — If grain is in a bad condition or spoiled, it can crust together, lining the bin wall. Workers may attempt to break the pillar apart, and if it is loosened, it can create an avalanche that quickly covers the bottom of the bin and any workers inside.
The most obvious form of prevention is to properly manage the condition of the grain. If grain walls do form, anyone that enters the bin should use a secure body harness that can withstand up to 5,400 lbs. of stress. Workers should be lowered from the top of the bin, dislodging the grain from the top down.
Additional safety tips:
  • Install ladders inside and outside all bins.
  • Require all workers go through training for specific hazardous situations related to entering and working inside of grain bins.
  • Provide workers with adequate safety harnesses for entering a dangerous bin. If a hazardous situation is present, three workers should be present — one inside the bin and two outside for support.
  • Do not rely on a rope, chain or pipe ladder hanging from the roof.
  • When working with out-of-condition, moldy grain, do not work alone and always wear a respirator capable of filtering fine dust particles.
  • Air quality inside a bin or silo should be tested prior to entry to detect the presence of combustible and toxic gases, and to determine if there is sufficient oxygen.
  • If you should become trapped in a grain bin or silo, stay near the outer wall and keep moving.
  • Issue a permit each time a worker enters a bin or silo, certifying that all precautions have been implemented.
Grain Bin Safety Resources: 

What precautions have you implemented on your farm or at your agribusiness? We'd like to hear from our readers, and share any additional tips that could be used to help keep workers safe while working with grain and grain bins.


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