Safety is vital when working around grain, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service Agricultural Engineer Ken Hellevang says.

One potential safety hazard is ice accumulation on grain dryer fans. That can lead to imbalance and vibration. Fans disintegrated during the 2008-2009 harvest because of ice buildup. Hellevang recommends producers monitor fans for ice accumulation and remove the ice if it builds up.

Bridging is another potential problem. A lot of wetter-than-normal corn is going into storage this year, and wet corn is more prone to bridging, Hellevang warns. 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. Producers should follow recommended storage management procedures to minimize the potential for crusting or bridging.

Two people in the North Dakota region lost their lives in 2008-2009 due to grain entrapment, and several more narrowly escaped.

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.
  • To determine if the grain is bridged, look for a funnel shape on the surface of the grain mass after some grain has been removed. If the grain surface appears undisturbed, the grain has bridged and a cavity has formed under the surface.
  • To break bridged grain loose, stay outside the bin and use a pole or other object to break the bridge. Tie the pole or other object to a rope attached to the bin so you can retrieve the pole or other object if you drop it.
  • To dislodge grain that has formed a wall or other large mass, try to break it up from the top of the bin with a long pole on a rope or through a door with a long pole.
  • Do not allow anyone to work around stored grain until he or she has been warned about the hazards.
  • Never enter a grain bin without stopping the auger and using "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.
  • Contact your local emergency rescue service or fire department. Ventilate the bin using the fan.
  • Form retaining walls around the person with plywood, sheet metal or other material to keep grain from flowing toward the person, then remove grain from around the individual.
  • Don't try to pull a person out of flowing grain if it is up to the person's waist or higher. The grain exerts tremendous pressure on the body, so trying to pull a person out could damage his or her spinal column.
  • Cut holes in the bin sides to remove grain if the person is submerged. Use a cutting torch, metal-cutting power saw or air chisel to cut at least two V- or U-shaped holes on opposite sides or more holes equally spaced around the bin. Grain flowing from just one hole may injure the trapped person and cause the bin to collapse.

For more information, check out NDSU publication AE-1102, "Caught in the Grain."