Grain handling poses year-round danger


  • Despite the tools and precautions put in place to prevent grain related deaths, they still account for many farm related fatalities
  • Being able to recognize dangerous situations is the first step in prevention
  • Take advantage of safety equipment that is now available with many grain bin models

It’s one of the worst calls that rural volunteer fire departments receive: farmer trapped in grain bin. Despite having tools to create a protective barrier around the trapped person and the ability to cut open bins to let grain move away, these calls often end tragically. There just isn’t enough time.

Grain bin safety is an issue that hits close to home for Peter Gredig, a grain grower from St. Thomas, Ont., and a contributor to this publication. “A good friend, neighbour and community leader lost his life when he entered a bin while loading out corn this past March. This happened to one of the most safety-conscious farmers I know. He was a father of four and his loss was devastating for his family and the community,” Gredig says.

Despite improvements in grain storage safety design and equipment... grain entrapment or engulfment continues to be a major cause of preventable deaths on farms.

“Anyone who works with on-farm stored crops has a feel for the dangers of flowing grain. But we just keep losing people because we don’t want to make truckers wait, or we underestimate the risk of going into a grain bin in certain scenarios. It has to stop.”
According to the most recent data from Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting, 40 of the nearly 1,000 work-related fatalities that occurred on Canadian farms between 1990 and 2000 happened in silos and grain bins.

Despite improvements in grain storage safety design and equipment, as well as rescue training and techniques, grain entrapment or engulfment continues to be a major cause of preventable deaths on farms.

In fact, the danger seems to be growing.

“The volumes of grain now being moved are huge (and) bins are becoming massive,” says Glen Blahey, a health and safety specialist with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA).

Whether it’s corn, wheat, canola or soy, Blahey says there are three common scenarios for entrapment: entering a bin while grain is being unloaded, walking on stable-looking graintop surfaces that are in fact fragile “grain bridges” that collapse underfoot, and the collapse of grain that is caked on bin walls.

All three cases, he noted, can lead to death within minutes, if not seconds.

“There’s not much a person can do to resist the suction-like action of flowing grain,” Blahey says. “Once you’re caught in it, the result is usually fatal.”

In addition to using safety equipment like harnesses and lifelines, which are now available with many grain bin models, Blahey recommends producers implement and enforce prevention policies and practices on their farms to help avoid a catastrophe.
They include never entering or working alone in grain bins when augers are in operation, and never allowing the young, the untrained or the unaware to enter bins at any time.

“There is a widespread public perception of grain as an innocuous substance,” Blahey says. Instead, it has to be recognized as a potential danger.

From an AgriSuccess article (Nov/Dec) by Mark Cardwell.