Grain Bin Safety: Are You and Your Emergency Responders Prepared?

What would happen in your community if someone became engulfed in grain while working in a grain bin?

Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS), hopes emergency personnel would have the necessary training and equipment to rescue the person or persons in peril.

Neenan recommends that farmers and commercial elevator managers consult their local Extension office for training options. Vocational Ag teachers can also provide curriculum’s to help educate youth about grain handling safety procedures and the dangers of working around flowing grain.

“Entrapment is a pretty common occurrence when it comes to grain bin accidents,” Neenan says. “On average, about 50% of rural fire department personnel have completed this type of rescue training and have the necessary rescue equipment.”

Entrapment – when an individual is unable to extricate themselves from grain or other agricultural materials – can occur in a silo, grain bin, grain transport vehicle, outdoor pile (avalanche) or bunker silo.

Engulfment occurs when an individual is fully buried in flowable agricultural material such as corn, small grains or feed.

Both engulfment and entrapment can occur within just 4 or 5 seconds and an individual can be submerged to the point where they’re unable to free themselves.

“Within 15 seconds you can be buried in grain up to your waist and completely submerged within 30 seconds,” Neenan says.

Children are at greatest risk of entrapment and engulfment in grain transport vehicles, but adults have lost their lives in this kind of event, too. One example OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) offers is when crusted grain stacked on one side of a wagon caused the wagon to become unbalanced and flip the tractor over onto the operator.

Key points in grain handling safety include:

  • The ability to identify hazards associated with confined space work in the grain industry
  • Understanding of the process for confined space entry and lock out procedures
  • Ability to discuss the confined space housekeeping procedures in grain handling
  • Knowing where to look for OSHA references and resources related to confined space entry in the grain industry

“Spring and fall are key times when grain engulfment events occur,” Neenan says. “In June and July, farmers are often selling stored grain in anticipation of their fall harvest, and the potential for grain bin entrapment is high.”

Grain bin rescue tips provided by OSHA: 

  1. The best rescue is one that never happens.
  2. Never enter an emergency situation alone.
  3. Use confined space entry procedures or best practices available.
  4. Conduct a hazard assessment (as a preventive measure)
  5. Remember who is the most important: YOU!

“The first question to ask before you enter the bin is whether or not you really need to go in,” Neenan says. “If the answer is yes, review the safety rules to make sure you’re going in safely and you’re coming back out.”

Find  more grain handling safety and education materials here! 

National Ag Safety Database:

Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health
University of Nebraska Medical Center
College of Public Health