Make grain bin safety a priority

February 20, 2024
Laramie Sandquist, a risk management expert with Nationwide, discusses the hazards of working with stored grain and describes work procedures that promote safety.

Working in and around grain bins can be dangerous. In 2022, the number of accidents involving entrapments increased about 45% over the previous year.

Grain Bin Safety Week, held each year in February, brings awareness to the dangers of working with stored grain. Laramie Sandquist, a risk management expert with Nationwide, discusses precautions grain handlers can take and the importance of planning ahead to handle any emergencies that happen when working with grain.

Beware of Grain Bin Hazards

Grain bin safety starts with being aware of the hazards of working with stored grain, says Sandquist.

“Atmospheric conditions within a grain bin are a huge risk. It’s a confined space that can be extremely toxic and oxygen deficient. There needs to be at least a 21% oxygen ratio,” says Sandquist. “Other hazards come from the equipment found inside the bin. Augers and other pieces of power equipment can suck you into grain quickly.”

Out-of-condition grain that doesn’t flow properly is another red flag to monitor. It’s often the reason people enter grain bins. Sandquist says entrapments can occur when stuck or bridged grain collapses.

Make an Emergency Plan

Sandquist recommends adopting a zero-entry mentality concerning grain bins. However, if someone does have to enter a grain structure, he urges having a plan in place for grain handling safety.

“In a lot of cases where we see farmers or workers trapped, there was no plan on how to approach the problem,” says Sandquist. “They had a problem and went in to solve it right away before thinking about potential unsafe actions.”

To start, he recommends performing a hazard assessment. “Farmers should know what they’re getting into and what procedures they need to take. If it’s a bridging situation, for example, that’s different than anything else you might encounter. You know the grain isn’t moving, and you’ll likely sink in if you stand on top of it.”

It’s also important to have a spotter ready to help you and to communicate with the local fire department to alert them of your plan. Another vital step is to assess the oxygen level of the environment. And anyone planning to enter a grain bin should be using the proper protective equipment and should make sure they’ve locked and tagged out of any power equipment in the bin.

Grain Safety Advocacy

Nationwide has supported the education of grain handling safety practices and first-responder training for a decade. Its grain bin safety advocacy program has raised $1.4 million in donations to help more than 332 fire departments across the country. Farmers can nominate their fire department to receive a grain bin rescue tube through the Nationwide website. For more grain bin safety practices, visit granbinsafetyweek.com.

Safety resources

Rescue workers in PPE on top of a grain bin