Much like driving without a seat belt, entering a grain bin without taking the proper precautions is an unnecessary risk that can have deadly consequences.
Despite the ubiquitous educational campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers associated with grain bin entry — not to mention some countries adopting zero-entry laws and safety standards — hundreds of fatal and non-fatal grain entrapment incidents still occur each year around the world.
The awareness campaign was in full force at this year’s Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) Exchange, which featured a pre-conference workshop on grain entrapment prevention and rescue as well as bin rescue demonstrations during the three-day expo. On the trade show floor, industry suppliers displayed a wide range of equipment designed to keep employees out of bins. The workshop was entitled: Why Are They Still Entering Grain Bins? The answer, I believe, has to do with time and money.
Virtually all entrapment incidents involve out of condition grain that has crusted or clumped, which prevents or limits the ability to move grain out of bins. Desperate to get the grain moving, some workers choose to enter bins and either stomp on grain that has crusted on the surface, which can lead to rapid engulfment, or, while standing on the bin floor, try to dislodge clumped grain on sidewalls, which can cause a deadly avalanche.
Cutting corners to save both time and money is a great temptation in any business, but particularly in a tight-margin industry like the grain sector. It takes time to execute lock-out, tag-out procedures and put on fall protection gear before entering a bin. Also, there is significant expense in purchasing aeration systems and other high-tech equipment designed to prevent grain from crusting or clumping or state-of-the-art equipment that allows workers to break up grain without entering the bin. Making sure all employees have received grain entrapment rescue training and purchasing the rescue equipment also is a time-consuming and expensive proposition.
But the potential death of an employee as well as the massive fines and legal settlements, and the negative publicity that accompanies such a tragedy, should provide enough incentive to make these investments without thinking twice. Each facility should foster a safety-first culture clearly conveying that bin entry is a last resort and no one should enter a bin without first executing lock-out, tag-out measures and wearing fall protection gear. Also, an employee should never, under any circumstance, enter a bin alone.
If there’s a silver lining to this tragic situation, it’s that the message seems to be getting through to more workers at commercial facilities. Jeff Decker, president, Decker Consulting & Investigations, told GEAPS Exchange attendees that about 30% of the grain entrapment incidents in the United States occur at commercial facilities, while 70% occur on farms. The ratio was 50-50 just a few years ago. But, he added that the number of overall incidents were about the same, which means more grain engulfment accidents are occurring on farms.
The global grain industry must remain relentless in its mission to educate its workers about the grave dangers associated with grain bin entry. The goal must be to someday bring engulfment deaths to zero in both commercial facilities and on the farm.