Harvest is upon us and with it comes long hours, fatigue, and hazards that are overlooked. The key is having a mindset for safety. That includes taking a moment to think about the hazards involved with your operation, and the steps you can take to reduce those hazards.
Many times farmers and employees get into a routine because they have done the job so many times in the past without issue. They fail to recognize little changes that can make a big impact. And that can lead to dangerous consequences.
In fact, during a recent conversation with a fellow practitioner, we disagreed on safety in our industries. His attitude was that his industry was so dangerous that there were going to be injuries. It was just part of the job. I couldn’t disagree more. That is not the case! All hazards can be managed so the work can be done in a safe manner. I’m not saying all hazards can or will be eliminated. I’m saying with planning, hazards can be reduced to a manageable level so no injuries occur.
So let’s talk about a key harvest time hazard -- grain bin safety. Many producers and commercial locations are now preparing for harvest by making space and cleaning out their bins. In the past few years, there have been entirely too many injuries and fatalities involved with this chore. Before anyone ever enters a grain bin, steps must be taken to reduce and/or eliminate the hazards.
Here are some basic steps that can be taken to reduce hazards (This list may not be inclusive of all situations so always evaluate your unique circumstance and include other steps when needed).
Check the atmosphere by testing. Toxic gases build up in grain bins naturally through the decomposition of grain, or through gases introduced to kill insects and pests. These gases can be poisonous to humans; they can also displace the oxygen in the unit, thereby reducing the overall oxygen level. Some gases are odorless and colorless giving the person entering the bin the false sense that the space is safe to enter.
The only true way to safely check the air in a bin is to verify its quality by using air samples that determine oxygen and toxic levels. The rule of thumb -- oxygen levels below 19.5% show an oxygen deficient environment and can lead to loss of consciousness and death.
Turn off and lock out all equipment. It’s not good enough to just turn off the grain reclaim and fill equipment. This equipment must be locked out and the person entering the bin should hold onto the key so the lock is not removed inadvertently and equipment activated while the person is still inside the bin. There have been horrible injuries and deaths related to equipment being activated while persons were inside bins. These injuries and deaths were unintentional but they still happen.
Check the inside of the bin (from outside the bin) for grain bridging and engulfment hazards. Bridging happens when grain clumps due to moisture or mold. When grain is removed from underneath the bridged spot, a void is created, creating a very dangerous situation. The weight of someone walking on top of bridged grain can cause a collapse, entrapping the person falling. Grain build up on the side walls of a bin is just a shovel away from avalanching down, knocking the person off their feet and engulfing them.
To prevent this from happening, never allow entry into a bin that has bridging or build up on the side walls! Remove the grain from above the bridging. Make sure the person doing the job is positioned above and is secured (from a catwalk or bowsman chair where there is no chance of being engulfed). Sometimes side build ups can be removed from hitting the outside of the bin with rubber mallets or using a long probe from outside the bin to loosen the grain.
Protect the center sump, reclaim sumps, and sweep auger. This is done by securing grates over the sumps or opening the sump gates only far enough to get the grain flowing, but not wide enough so someone can get their foot into the sump pit. Always make sure the sweep auger is off and locked out. If the sweep auger is operating, it’s best not to have anyone inside the bin.
Work in pairs. Before entering a bin, there needs to be communication with everyone about the bin entry. Working in pairs means if there is a person inside the bin, there must be someone outside the bin watching the person inside. If someone in the bin gets into a situation that could cause an injury or death, the person outside can call for help and stop an operation before the worst happens.
Working inside a grain bin does not need to be a dangerous activity. Take time to evaluate the situation; develop a plan to work safe; then work the plan so everyone remains safe and can go home to their families when the job is complete.