Anyone working around grain bins needs to be aware of the dangers of stored grain, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer Ken Hellevang warns.
"A lot of wetter-than-normal corn went into storage last fall, and wet corn is more prone to crusting or creating a wall of grain near the grain bin wall," he says. "This increases the potential for bin unloading problems and getting trapped by the grain."
People can become trapped in three ways: flowing grain, the collapse of a vertical wall of grain and the collapse of bridged grain.
Bridging occurs when the kernels stick together and form a crust. A cavity will form under the crust when grain is removed from the bin. However, the crust isn't strong enough to support a person's weight. Bridging also transfers more of the load to the bin wall, which may lead to bin failure as the bin is unloaded.
Hellevang offers these tips to help keep farmers and elevator personnel safe:
* Never enter a bin while unloading grain or to break up a grain bridge. A wall of grain can collapse without warning and cover a person. Flowing grain will pull a person into the grain mass, burying the individual in a few seconds.
* Look for a funnel shape on the surface of the grain mass after some grain has been removed. If the surface appears undisturbed, the grain has bridged and a cavity has formed underneath.
* Stay outside the bin and use a pole or other object to break bridged grain loose. Attach the pole or other object to the bin with a rope so you can retrieve the pole or other object if you drop it.
* Try breaking up a grain wall or other large mass from the top of the bin or through the bin door with a long pole on a rope. Do not remove more of the wall in the door than necessary to insert the pole because the grain may crash into the wall or flow out the door.
* Do not unload grain from an opening in the grain bin door or the sump on the side of the grain bin. Unloading grain from the side can damage the bin and cause it to collapse.
* Do not allow people to work around stored grain until they are warned about the hazards.
* Never enter a grain bin without stopping the auger and using the "lock-out /tag-out" procedures to secure it. Use a key-type padlock to lock the auger switch in the "off" position.
* Never enter a grain bin alone. Have at least two people at the bin to assist in case of problems. Use a safety harness or line when entering a bin.
Here is what to do if someone gets trapped:
* Shut off all grain-moving machinery to stop the flow of grain.