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4 dangerous scenarios to avoid in grain bins

Tom J. Bechman grain bins
NEVER TAKE CHANCES: If you must go inside a bin, one of the cardinal rules is to lock out power before you enter.
Here are four situations that can put you at risk of entrapment inside a grain bin.

Dry corn down to the proper moisture levels and harvest quality in a timely manner. That lessens your odds of situations that result in grain bin entrapments. That’s the word from Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety in Peosta, Iowa.

“The most deaths from grain bin entrapments in the U.S. occurred in 2010, following a 2009 harvest which was late with wet corn,” he says. “Conditions were similar during harvest in 2019, and 2020 may push 2010 for that dubious record. Many incidents that lead to grain bin entrapment begin with corn that goes out of condition.”


Neenan spoke during a 30-minute session sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, which was part of the 2020 Farm Progress Virtual Experience. See the session at

Here are four dangerous situations to be aware of:

1. Entering a bin with the auger running because it’s plugged. This is the most common scenario leading to entrapment and death, and the most avoidable, Neenan says. Never enter a bin without locking out power, let alone leave the auger running. Have a second person on guard at the entry to the bin, and wear a harness.

“You can be to your waist in 15 seconds and submerged in 30 seconds in flowing grain,” Neenan says. “It’s not likely someone will hear you holler for help over a 10-inch unloading auger if it’s running. And you likely can’t make a cellphone call inside a metal bin. You likely won’t have enough reaction time anyway.”

2. Entering a bin with crusted grain on the surface. You don’t know if grain has given way as the bin unloaded underneath the crust. If it did, Neenan says the void could be 3 feet or 30 feet. If you fall though, you could suffer injuries from the fall, plus become entrapped in grain flowing in over you.

One fatal case in northern Indiana in early 2020 was attributed to a farmer thinking the surface of the pile was solid when, in fact, it was a crust over a void where grain had emptied out of the bin during unloading. It didn’t support his weight, and he became entrapped.

3. Entering a bin with crusted grain on one side. Just a few years ago, a widow, with her daughter and her niece, sat around her kitchen table and told a reporter how her husband had perished in a grain accident a few months earlier, just a few days before they were slated to go on a long-awaited vacation together.

He entered a bin through the door, intending to break loose a pile of grain several feet above his head that was clinging to the bin wall due to crusting. He used a long pole, but it wasn’t long enough. When the grain broke loose, the avalanche engulfed him.

4. Texting while pulling out grain with a grain vac hose. Maybe you’re in there because the grain won’t flow out due to plugging.

“We’re starting to hear cases where someone gets a text message inside the bin — you can get texts, not calls — and drops the hose to read it and respond,” Neenan says. “The hose sucks up grain and the person risks being entrapped before he realizes it.”

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