Farmers Get Crash Course in Grain Bin Safety

2/1/2014 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent

HARRINGTON, Del. — It only takes an instant for a routine day on the farm to become a matter of life or death.

Delmarva farmers received a crash course in the hazards of flowing grain recently during Delaware’s Ag Week in Harrington. Demonstrations were held Jan. 14-16, including simulated rescues of people trapped in a grain storage bin.

The demonstrations were meant to raise awareness and give volunteer fire companies, farmers and others the tools and knowledge they need to better respond.

Problems such as being trapped by moving grain or people getting injured by equipment such as an auger happen rarely on Delmarva, but they can and do happen. The risk is also rising as more farmers install equipment to store grain.

Just a few weeks ago, three people got trapped in a grain storage bin in Boonsboro, Md., according to Mike Love, a University of Delaware Cooperative Extension agent.

Love said two of the three people trapped were rescued quickly. The third was trapped for six hours.

“It does happen and that’s only three hours away,” Love said. “You can almost guarantee it’s going to happen ... We’re just trying to build up awareness.”

Love said a rescue trailer used to demonstrate techniques to help in such emergencies has been taken to 17 or 18 of Delaware’s volunteer fire companies in order to teach volunteers how to better respond to such emergencies.

Love and Jeff Willis, Perdue Farms safety manager, were on hand at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington to conduct the Ag Week demonstrations. Willis said that Perdue has made an effort to have rescue equipment available at Perdue sites; equipment such as rescue sleeves or cofferdams, which can be placed around people trapped by grain.

Cofferdams form a barrier around someone trapped in a bin to prevent them from being buried more deeply. In extreme cases, they can be closed at the top and an oxygen source can be fed into the container to keep a trapped person alive until they can be rescued.

That equipment has been made available to emergency responders.

“It is our way of giving to the community,” Willis said, adding that Perdue has gone from perhaps one training session for firefighters per year to as many as nine per year.

During the demonstrations at the fairgrounds, Love partially buried a doll in flowing corn until the doll could be carefully lifted to safety.

He said good procedures to follow in case of an emergency include immediately shutting down the electrical equipment. He said that farmers should immediately call for help, be aware of equipment and pre-plan so that they know what resources are available.

Among the most common hazards is something called “bridging.” That can occur when grain is placed in an elevator and then removed from the bottom. When the grain is removed, it can leave a thin crust of grain which appears solid, but is similar to thin ice. Beneath the thin crust is an open area, and people can easily fall through that crust and into the moving grain below.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, offered safety suggestions in a handout distributed during Ag Week. Suggestions included insuring that communication between workers in a bin and an observer are maintained; providing workers with rescue equipment such as winch systems that are specifically suited for rescue from the bin; providing each worker with a boatswain’s chair or a body harness with a lifeline; and prohibiting entry on or below a bridging condition.

“It’s all in the prevention,” Willis said. “Prevention, prevention, prevention. We are trying to educate the farmer and the firefighter.”

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