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Grain bins

What would happen in your community if someone became engulfed in grain while working in a grain bin?

Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS), hopes emergency personnel would have the necessary training and equipment to rescue the person or persons in peril.

“Entrapment is a pretty common occurrence when it comes to grain bin accidents,” Neenan says. “On average, about 50% of rural fire department personnel have completed this type of rescue training and have the necessary rescue equipment.”

Grain Bin Safety Week, an annual event sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, holds a “Nominate Your Fire Department Contest” each year to offer free training and the donation of a rescue tube to 16 of the nominated departments. The contest application is available at

“As part of the application, the nomination describes how their fire department or emergency rescue team and rural community would benefit from receiving grain entrapment training and a rescue tube,” Neenan says. “Individuals, groups or companies who want to support this effort have the opportunity to donate rescue tubes, rescue training or to make a financial contribution.”

Fire departments and emergency rescue teams who aren’t selected for free training and equipment can still obtain these tools – sometimes without cost - from other resources, including some of the companies selling grain bins.

“There are six different rescue tubes available on the market that fire emergency rescue departments can purchase,” Neenan says. “There are also several State Fire Bureaus that can help them get the training.”

Entrapment – when an individual is unable to extricate themselves from grain or other agricultural materials – can occur in a silo, grain bin, grain transport vehicle, outdoor pile (avalanche) or bunker silo.

Engulfment occurs when an individual is fully buried in flowable agricultural material such as corn, small grains or feed.

Both engulfment and entrapment can also occur during the use of grain vacuum machines, with outdoor grain piles or in the event of a storage structure failure. Within just 4 or 5 seconds, an individual can be submerged to the point where they’re unable to free themselves.

“Within 15 seconds you can be buried in grain up to your waist and completely submerged within 30 seconds,” Neenan says.

Children are at greatest risk of entrapment and engulfment in grain transport vehicles, but adults have lost their lives in this kind of event, too. 

OSHA provides numerous online grain handling safety materials. Key points in grain handling safety include:

• The ability to identify hazards associated with confined space work in the grain industry

• Understanding of the process for confined space entry and lock out procedures

• Ability to discuss the confined space housekeeping procedures in grain handling

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• Knowing where to look for OSHA references and resources related to confined space entry in the grain industry

Neenan recommends that farmers and commercial elevator managers consult their local Extension office for training options. Vocational Ag teachers can also provide curriculum’s to help educate youth about grain handling safety procedures and the dangers of working around flowing grain.

Some tips offered by OSHA include:

1. The best rescue is one that never happens.

2. Never enter an emergency situation alone.

3. Use confined space entry procedures or best practices available.

4. Conduct a hazard assessment (as a preventive measure)

5. Remember who is the most important: YOU!

“The first question to ask before you enter the bin is whether or not you really need to go in,” Neenan says. “If the answer is yes, review the safety rules to make sure you’re going in safely and you’re coming back out.”

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