THE calm before the harvest storm is upon us, and grain handling facilities are preparing for receiving this year's crop.
However, a late start to the 2013 harvest will mean handling and storing a larger amount of high-moisture grain, which could result in crusting grain that could clog grain handling equipment.
Ohio State University Extension safety research associate Andrew Mann warned that out-of-condition or spoiled grain can lead to grain bin disruption and potential engulfment, which occurs when an individual enters the grain bin to determine why grain flow has ceased.
"With cooler conditions over much of the growing season this summer in the region, followed by a damp fall, the way things are looking right now, we're hearing from some growers that moisture levels are at 28-32%," Mann said. "Some growers have started harvesting already, and they have to get that grain harvest down to safe storage moisture levels.
"Corn needs to be at a safe storage moisture of about 15% or cooled quickly to reduce biological activity (spoiling grain)," he added.
Properly drying wet corn can lessen the potential of grain bin engulfment occurring due to spoiled grain stopping the flow of grain, Mann explained.
According to researchers at Purdue University, in the past 50 years, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported, with a fatality rate of 62% (Feedstuffs, July 1).
Suffocation from engulfment is the leading cause of death in grain bins, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
Wet grain or mold can cause bridging when grain clumps together. Often, when these problems occur, employees will enter the bin for closer inspection and can end up dislodging or unbridging the grain. Even if the grain flow is stopped before entry, stepping on bridged grain could cause it to cave in a matter of minutes and create an avalanche of grain that traps the worker.
Employers can reduce the number of injuries and fatalities from grain engulfment by properly training employees and establishing standard safety practices that meet or even exceed OSHA requirements.
The only way to completely eliminate grain engulfment is to not allow workers to enter a grain storage bin. However, there are rare incidences that may require entering the bin.
For those times when a worker must go into a grain bin, OSHA has set the following grain handling facility standards, complied by the National Grain & Feed Assn., that must be followed to help minimize risk:
* Issue written permits before entry occurs, unless the employer or its representative is present during the entire operation.
* Disconnect, lock out and tag all mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic equipment feeding or emptying the structure that presents a danger to a person while inside the bin, silo or tank.
* Test the atmosphere within a bin, silo or tank for the presence of combustible gases, vapors and toxic agents if the employer has reason to believe such hazards may be present. Testing for the presence of oxygen also is required, unless there is continuous natural air movement or forced air ventilation before and during the time someone is inside the structure. Respirators are to be provided if ventilation cannot eliminate toxicity or oxygen deficiencies.
* Equip the person entering the bin, silo or tank from the top with a body harness with a lifeline or a boatswain's chair that meets OSHA requirements.
* During entry operations, station an observer outside the structure who is "equipped to provide assistance" and is trained in rescue procedures. Employers also are required to provide equipment for rescue operations.
In 2012, the U.S. agriculture industry, which employs more than 2 million people, recorded its highest fatality rate (Feedstuffs, Sept. 2). The recent Bureau of Labor statistics exemplify why safety in workplace must be a focus every day.