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Millions of bushels of grains safely flow from field to storage and then to market each year. There is potential risk for farm workers or family members to suffocate beneath the surface of grain. The real tragedy is that many who have experienced this type of accident did not know the potential danger of handling grain.

Seconds Count in Accidents

Grain handling accidents happen very quickly. Flowing grain can draw in a person within five seconds. As farm equipment becomes faster, people have less time to respond before they are helpless to the effects of flowing grain.

Grain Traps Like Quicksand

A grain surface may appear solid, but it is not. A small opening in the unloading gate gives the entire surface the quality of quicksand. When a single kernel is removed from the bottom of a granary, kernels directly above it rush to fill the void, creating a fluid motion. Flowing grain is like a fluid; objects on the surface sink, and heavy objects sink faster than light ones.

Even if grain has stopped flowing, submerged objects or people are difficult to extract. Victims with tremendous upper body strength cannot pull themselves out if they are buried up to the chest. The force required to remove someone buried in grain can easily exceed 2,000 pounds, which is about the same as lifting a small car.

How to Prevent Accidents

The easiest way to reduce risk is to eliminate the situation. Make it a policy to always lock all access doors to grain storage structures. With this policy, children are not exposed to suffocation hazards in bins.

Also, never allow children to ride in grain carts or enter grain storage areas. Ensure external ladders start at a height inaccessible to children.

Farm workers, however, must expose themselves to some suffocation risks. To reduce risk, follow these guidelines:

  • Don’t enter a storage structure unless you have to.
  • Never enter a storage structure without turning off the auger and ensuring no one can start filling or emptying the structure while you are inside.
  • Stay on the ladder above the level of compacted or bridged grain while dislodging it.

Emergency Procedures

  • If trapped by grain, don’t panic — the grain will pack tighter. Shield your face and chest with arms and clothing to create space for breathing.
  • Plan your escape. Always have a person watch from the outside. If he cannot pull you out without entering, they must call for help. Only then may someone enter, wearing a life-line. One or more people outside can help to pull you out.

Today’s farmers should purchase insurance from people who know farming. Farming should be viewed as a business, and you should seek advise from people who understand your business.