EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Grain bins don't hold just large quantities of corn, soybeans or other grains — they also contain the potential for great danger.
Perhaps, few people know this better than George Lovell.
Lovell is chief operating officer with Michigan-based Safety & Technical Rescue Association (SATRA), and he travels around the country teaching classes on grain entrapment prevention and rescue.
At almost every class, Lovell told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/TniN3k ), he meets someone who has been personally affected by these accidents.
"I hear over and over again, traveling all over the place, stories about people's loved ones that were lost," Lovell said Thursday during a training class at Azteca Milling north of Evansville. About 30 people, including Azteca employees, area farmers and a handful of firefighters, attended the training taught by Lovell and SATRA instructor Shawn Seely.
Grain storage facilities are a common sight in agricultural America — but many people don't realize the dangers that lurk inside those silver towers, Lovell said.
Sometimes, an accident occurs when a person is caught standing on top of stored grain as the grain is being emptied from storage. As the grain pours out, it creates a funnel effect that can suck a person under the surface in less than a minute, Lovell said.
Accidents can also happen when grain clumps up, forming either a crusty bridge or adhering to the walls of a storage building.
A worker who enters the building in an attempt to break up the bridge or the wall clumps can easily become engulfed in a flood of grain.
And because of the weight of grain, the physics of the situation makes it impossible for a person buried even waist deep to climb out or be easily pulled out, Lovell said.
"If you understand the power that's in one of these bins there, it's just enormous," Lovell said as he gestured toward an Azteca structure.
Grain entrapment accidents are often fatal, but Lovell said exact numbers are hard to come by.
Purdue University's Agricultural Safety and Health Program has been tracking grain entrapment cases since 1978. Last year, there were 27 grain entrapments in the U.S., including eight fatalities, according to a Purdue report released in March. In 2010, the report said, there were 51 entrapments, including 26 fatalities.
But Purdue also said its own report doesn't include all entrapments.
Most grain storage and handling facilities are exempt from having to report injuries, the Purdue report said, and in some cases victims or their employers may be reluctant to report nonfatal entrapments.
"What happens out there in the private farming world is unknown," he said.
As part of the training, participants took part in a simulated entrapment and rescue.
After a volunteer was partially engulfed in dried corn, four others played the part of rescuers. They learned how to use a Res-Q Tube — four curved metal panels that are driven into the grain to form a protective circular wall around the victim. Once the Res-Q Tube is in place, grain can be removed from around the victim, allowing the victim to be safely extricated.
Sean Sandwell, senior safety manager at Azteca, said the training happened this week because the manufacturer is just completing a big grain storage expansion. Between last year and the present, Azteca has added nine new storage bins, with a total storage capacity of 3 million bushels of corn.
The new bins will allow Azteca to store more corn at its manufacturing facility rather than off-site as it had done before, Sandwell said.
Previously, Sandwell said, Azteca's on-site grain storage bins were much smaller, and employees did not have to enter the structures.
"They could do everything they had to do from the outside."
Employees now must enter the larger bins to clean them, Sandwell said.
Graber Construction and GSI Group donated a Res-Q Tube to Azteca at the end of the training. GSI makes both the Res-Q Tube and grain storage building components. Graber Construction was the firm that installed the GSI grain storage buildings at Azteca.
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com