WITH many grain bins full of stored grain at this time of year, safety experts with The Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences are reminding farmers to be aware of safety precautions to prevent grain engulfments and to have an overall awareness and understanding of grain bin safety.
In Ohio alone, an average of 26 farm workers lose their lives to job-related incidents every year, said Dee Jepsen, state safety leader for Ohio State University Extension.
"Flowing grain and grain storage is one of the contributing factors," she said. "In the past 10 years, we've had three deaths to Ohio farmers caused by engulfments in grain bins."
The ultimate goal, Jepsen said, is to work to prevent farm deaths and injuries, and one way to do that is through education and awareness of grain bin safety.
To raise awareness to help protect farm families and farm workers from farm-related injuries and deaths, members of the college's agriculture safety team established Grain Bin Safety Week, which ran Feb. 23 to March 1 this year.
Grain bin rescues can be classified as confined-space rescues, which require technical training in various capacities. Rescue personnel have requested specific training in these unconventional rescue situations in which they have limited experience and limited knowledge of the agricultural conditions that exist, she said.
"It is important to understand how fast grain can consume you and how quickly you can become helpless," Jepsen said. "The main message is prevention: never enter a grain bin alone, shut off the auger before entering the bin and always wear a fall protection harness."
The Grain Elevator & Processing Society's 2014 Expo held recently in Omaha, Neb., offered a workshop addressing the growing number of incidents of grain engulfment and how to prevent them.
Wayne Bauer, director of safety and security for Star of the West Milling Co., noted during the workshop that the number of grain engulfments and fatalities in 2013 was greater than in 2012 and that 2014 is on track to have increased numbers from 2013. According to Bauer, there have been five fatalities just in the past seven weeks.
"Moving grain in and out of these spaces is a lot faster than it used to be, and the room for error is a lot greater than it used to be," Bauer explained about the history of grain storage and the changes that have resulted.
Bauer stressed the importance of training and noted that the following practices can reduce the odds of becoming harmed:
* Stay out of the bin, if at all possible, by developing a "zero entry" mentality.
* Never enter alone. Always use the buddy system.
* Never enter untrained. No one should be allowed to work in a grain bin unless they have received hands-on training in the 12 months prior to bin entry.
* Follow the entry permit. Employees must be trained to utilize a checklist suitable for the site in question and know how to identify and address hazards.
* Shut down and lock out equipment. Adopt appropriate safeguards if a sweep auger is operating. The procedures and written instructions must keep the employees out of the "point of operation," as defined by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. The procedures must be written down and employees trained accordingly. The standard operation procedure regarding the sweep auger must state that it will remain locked out until the employee entering the bin is at the "safe point" before the power is restored.
* Secure lifelines properly. Provide suitable anchor points that will handle 1,000-1,800 lb. of force. The restraint system must incorporate a Belay system that will limit slack in the lifeline to 18-24 in. and be able to handle 500-800 lb. jerks on the line.
* Have an emergency plan. Identify an appropriate emergency response group for possible rescues. Train with the response group, and evaluate their performance and capabilities. Are rescue equipment and trained responders available in a timely manner?
"We've been training for years to show how to use a cofferdam, but we need to go much further than this," Bauer said. Whether a new bin is being built or an older one needs improvements, safety needs to become a greater priority.
Bauer said monitoring grain condition to ensure that it doesn't spoil can also reduce the risk of grain engulfment.
Additionally, he recommended designing and installing a reclaim system that can operate safely and efficiently without the necessity of bin entry. Access points, doors and work platforms are important because larger tunnels and access doors can help prevent accidents. It is recommended that larger access doors have a minimum 3 ft. x 3 ft. platform with handrails under them.
For more information on this issue, visit www.grainentrapmentprevention.com.