Editor’s note: The questions posed in the letter from Doug Burkard were passed on to Glen Blahey, agricultural health and safety specialist with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association. Both the letter and response are below.
I have just read the article “Trapped in a flash — the horror waiting inside a grain bin.”
I was in awe when I read this. I have been farming for over 50 years, and I cannot understand what would make anyone enter a grain bin from the top when the auger is moving the grain out of the bin on the bottom.
What would be the reason for someone to enter a bin under these circumstances? And are these victims adults or unsupervised children?
Excellent question — you’re right, it does seem like an unlikely scenario for someone to enter a grain bin from the top while an auger is drawing out grain. Three reasons that we know of that people enter the bin include:
- The ill-conceived practice of ‘walking the grain down’ in large bins. Someone goes into the bin to walk around the bin wall to cause the grain to avalanche down to the centre as it is being unloaded. (I believe the concept is that blending will occur to address the issue of differing qualities of grain being in the same bin.) As the individual walks the perimeter of the bin they gradually are moved farther and farther and farther away from the wall. After a couple of laps and becoming more exhausted, they may pause and are drawn down closer to the unloading sump. A realization of being trapped occurs, and they struggle to get back up to the side of the bin and the internal ladder. Due to exhaustion, every time they pause in their struggle to go up, they go farther down.
- A worker turns off the unloading system and goes into the bin for some reason (sampling, a crusted top, etc.). Another worker comes along and sees that the bin is not being unloaded, and turns on the unloading system not realizing that someone is in the bin. This is why lock-out/tag-out is important.
- Cases where farmers fall into the grain bin while it’s being unloaded.
Certainly, children are a major concern around moving grain. We have seen through media monitoring close calls involving grain entrapment in a variety of locations (grain bins, grain wagons, grain bags, etc.).
In 2015 in Canada, we know of nine instances where a person went into grain environments and became entrapped — seven of those individuals did not survive the entrapment. In the United States, there are about 30 fatalities yearly in grain.
The number of ‘got aways’ can only be a guess. As we engage producers in conversation about grain safety, we invariably hear about the close calls where someone got entrapped but were rescued by a family member or work colleague and there is never any formal record of the incident.
Based on analysis from the United States, grain that has gone out of condition is commonly involved in the incidents. Spontaneity seems to be the reason why many individuals find themselves trapped. In most reported incidents, it is reaction to a situation that is not well thought out that draws a person into the grain. Here are some other scenarios that we are aware of:
An individual is on the side of a grain trailer watching it unload, a gust of wind blows their hat off into the grain, they jump down into the grain to retrieve it and they quickly begin to sink. They call out for help — either no one hears them or in some instances their would-be helper rushes in to pull them out without first stopping the flow of grain, then two people become entrapped.
Grain has gone out of condition in the bin, unloading begins, and then the grain stops flowing. Someone decides to investigate why, goes in, and:
- Discovers that the grain has solidified onto the walls of the bin or into free-standing columns. They attempt to knock it down, unexpectedly the wall collapses and they become engulfed. (On occasion, the vibration of someone else opening up another access port is enough to cause the grain to collapse.)
- Large clumps of solidified grain have blocked the unloading sump. The person takes a long object and begins to poke it into the grain in the vicinity of the sump in an attempt to break up the clog. In many instances, the unloading auger is left running to indicate when the clog is broken up. Unfortunately, once the clog is broken up, the grain starts moving at literally hundreds of bushels per minute and the person is quickly drawn down.
We know there are solutions however. I am glad you’ve emailed. It shows that awareness efforts are working to bring attention to this serious issue.
We are working towards awareness; development of work procedures; use of personal protective equipment (such as fall restraint harnesses and lifelines); a no-working-alone policy; and a lock-out/tag-out policy.
Thanks once again for the thoughtful email and questions.