Oct 11, 2019

It could be the most important cup of coffee you ever have with family and employees. Beth Locken, Agtegra Director of Safety and Environmental, recommends an intentional, around-the-shop-table discussion about all things related to grain bin safety.

“At cooperative locations, we continually have conversations and trainings that will mitigate the risks inherent to stored grain,” says Locken. “We recommend our producers do the same thing with all those that will be helping them with harvest.”

This year of unusually wet weather has some similarities to the 2009 harvest, notes Locken. The following year, 2010, experienced a tragic record of the highest number of grain bin entrapment fatalities ever recorded. It’s a number directly related to the wet harvest the previous fall, because so much higher-moisture grain went into bins. “So from our stance, we really want to be pro-active this fall and into 2020, and not tragically mirror what happened in 2010,” says Locken.

Most entrapments occur from breaking up bridges of crusted grain along bin side walls. Strategies that can be done outside the steel walls are a way to begin safer, stored grain management.

Many producers have added their own dryer capacity over the past few years. Even if you don’t have drying capabilities, running some air through the bin can be a positive step for alleviating some wet grain storage problems. With fall protection in place, periodic but safe, visual checks from the top is a way to monitor grain condition issues.

Locken notes that the cooperative’s professional bin probe program remains in full swing this fall, checking wheat from a small grain harvest that has stretched from weeks into months, because of non-stop challenging weather. “Using our bin probe technicians and equipment can also really help customers understand the entirety of their stored grain situation,” says Locken. “It’s a way to safely check grain condition as you go forward with your marketing plans.”  

Another year of trade issues will also mean another harvest that may end up in farm storage, instead of the current marketplace. If possible, Locken recommends regularly cycling some of this grain through the bins, instead of just sitting in one site for several years. “I know our producers are storing a lot of grain. Just a good maintenance cycle will help reduce bridging,” says Locken. “This also helps with grain condition, which is obviously important from a marketing standpoint.”
            At some point, grain bin entries are inevitable. But the key, says Locken, is taking the time to perform this task with stringent safety protocols in place, every step of the way. Begin by shutting off and locking motors of all reclaim and filling equipment. You want no accidental, turning on of equipment, while someone is inside. Use the team approach, for entry. Discuss exactly what needs to be done inside the bin, between bin entrant and outside attendant.
            The entrant must be wearing a harness, with an attached lifeline tied off outside the bin. The role of the attendant is to observe and keep track of the line. In a worst-case scenario, the attendant could immediately then call for rescue help, if needed.

Locken says there is a positive to the years between 2010 and now. “We’ve seen a growing acceptance and use by our farmers, of using safety equipment,” she says. Agtegra has put together available-at-cost kits of safety equipment, which includes rope, harness and anchors. “We’ve had quite a few take advantage of these kits and can also provide hands-on training.”

One last discussion point to have is location whereabouts, especially once it is dark. If you are headed for a grain bin site at night, let someone know you are there. “We hear of this every year, someone at a bin facility, and another person comes in to dump, not knowing someone else had gone in to check something in the bin,” says Locken. Tech-savvy growers and family members can even download a GPS app as a location tool, to help track all those helping with your harvest.  

“It’s going to be a fast and furious harvest,” says Locken. “Communication now and as harvest proceeds has life-saving value, when it comes to grain bin safety.”

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