7 Safety Tips to Prevent Grain Elevator Entrapments
Growers who operate grain elevators may help prevent accidents by following key safety practices.
- Dozens of grain entrapments, some fatal, occur in the United States every year.
- Education and increased awareness may help improve safety on farms and at grain elevators.
- The Grain Weevil robot helps improve grain elevator safety by automizing dangerous tasks.
They’re scary words, and the true terror of their meaning is something that just about every person who’s ever handled grain understands. Most people who enter a grain bin or elevator, shovel in hand, emerge without incident. But such incidents — the ones nobody likes to talk about — are more common than you might think.
A study performed by researchers at Purdue University found that, over the course of 2020 and 2021, there were 120 documented cases of agricultural confined space-related incidents in the United States. Of the 56 cases reported in 2021, 29 were grain entrapments. And while the rate of fatality in these incidents has decreased, the researchers believe that may be due to a growing willingness to report non-fatal incidents.
Of course, these incidents are more than mere statistics. While the numbers are certainly eye-opening, grain elevator accidents can forever change the lives of operators and their loved ones. For varying reasons, at least 29 people last year (likely, dozens more) found themselves instantly plunged from a routine chore into an avalanche of flowing grain ready to swallow them whole.
For Catherine Rylatt, the issue hits close to home. In 2010, her 19-year-old nephew, Alex Pacas, died when he became trapped in a grain bin. Spurred by the tragedy, Rylatt became a driving force and founding member of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition, a large nonprofit organization that educates farmers, co-ops and grain elevator operators on best practices for safer handling of grain. While there are a myriad of safety measures she recommends, Rylatt says one of the most important things producers can do is ensure the quality of grain going into the bin is good — and then maintain that quality.
“Employees and employers should never hesitate to review recommended safety practices to ensure that work is completed as safely as possible.”
“Grain quality cannot be improved once it is in storage,” she says. “It can only be maintained. It is key to ensure pre-harvest and harvest activities are conducted in a manner that optimizes grain quality, and producers need to closely monitor grain while it’s in storage.”
“Engulfments and entanglements have one thing in common: They happen quickly,” says Jess McCluer, vice president of safety and regulatory affairs at the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA). “The newest employees and the most seasoned employees are the most susceptible to bin hazards due to one group being ignorant to the hazards and the other being too comfortable with them. Employees and employers should never hesitate to review recommended safety practices to ensure that work is completed as safely as possible.”
The consensus from people who study such incidents, such as Rylatt and McCluer, is most grain entrapments are preventable. Major progress has been made in the proper training and application of grain handling safety among farmers, employees and emergency personnel. But it’s important the industry doesn’t allow that progress to grind to a halt.
“We need to continue to be conscious of the hazards and continue to raise awareness and provide education, resources and training,” Rylatt says. “As the workforce changes, it is a great opportunity to infuse a stronger culture of safety into the agricultural industry.”
A Life-saving Robot
“Boy, it’d be nice if you could build me a robot to keep me out of the grain bin,” a farmer friend told Chad Johnson, CEO of Grain Weevil.
Armed with that germ of an idea, Johnson created the Grain Weevil, a grain bin safety and management robot that accomplishes the tasks farmers have historically done with a shovel: leveling grain, breaking up crusts and bridges, and feeding augers during extraction. The Grain Weevil works because of its auger-based propulsion system, which encourages grain flow by letting gravity do most of the work. This all adds up to help reduce risk of falls, entrapment, entanglement, and long-term health issues, such as farmer’s lung.
On top of these safety benefits, the Grain Weevil also aids in grain quality. The robot operates while grain is loaded, helping disperse fines. It also can map and measure moisture as grain enters the bin — then leveling everything off for long-term storage. Learn more about the Grain Weevil robot at www.grainweevil.com. For more resources on grain safety, visit www.grainsafety.org or www.grainsafety.org.
Every year, dozens of #grain elevator entrapments occur, among new and seasoned employees, in the United States. How can this be prevented? Check out tips growers can follow to stay safe while operating grain elevators.
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