Farmers can take steps during harvest season to avoid grain bin accidents, a Purdue Extension farm safety expert says.
In years like this when growers may have planted late and had to harvest grain at earlier maturity, low-quality grain will translate into spending more time in and around bins to check temperatures and moisture content. More time in bins leads to the potential for entrapments. But according to Steve Wettschurack, up to 90 percent of grain entrapments could be eliminated if farmers did not work alone or enter grain bins when unloading augers are running.
"With a 12-inch auger, it only takes 15 seconds to be in up to your waist, 30 seconds for the grain to be over your head and within one minute you can be 6 feet under the surface," he said. "It's nearly physically impossible to get out in time, and digging around when trapped causes more grain to flow down."
When growers are near grain bins, they should consider having one person at the top of the bin who can see everything and one person on the ground to make emergency phone calls if needed, Wettschurack said.
Another common cause of grain bin accidents occurs when wet grain forms a flat crust on the surface as it settles. As bins are unloaded, the crust stays intact while the grain below it is removed. Farmers may be deceived by what appears to be a full bin, but the crust can collapse and entrap them. Wet grain also can form crusts along the bin's sides. Wettschurack said growers should never enter bins and attempt to dislodge the grain with a prod from below. This, too, can collapse and entrap them. So far this year in Indiana, there have been no grain bin-related fatalities. But because many accidents occur during the harvest season, farmers need to remain alert.
As harvest continues, farmers also need to be aware of dangers in the fields. One way to stay safe while harvesting is to turn off any equipment before attempting machinery repairs. "This year there is a lot of corn down, which will plug up the corn head," Wettschurack said. "Sometimes it takes a few minutes for everything to come to a complete stop, so make sure all the parts have stopped moving before doing anything with it."
In addition to shutting down equipment, it takes about five minutes to replace guards that have to be removed to change frayed belts on augers and other machinery, but it could save a grower's life, Wettschurack said. He added that rainy days in the fall are good for doing routine maintenance.