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Safe storage of grains

Mississippi has seen a tremendous increase in corn production over the past several years. One component that goes with that increased acreage and harvest is commercial and on-farm storage.

A short drive in many Delta counties will reveal new storage, ranging from small, single, on-farm bins to multiple large commercial or co-op facilities.

Potential hazards with storage facilities should be recognized, and control measures should taken. Many new and younger farmers could be unaware of some of the hazards.

Virtually all of the hazards can be greatly reduced by simple engineering controls — such as mechanical guards and shields, personal protective equipment and best management practices — and some common sense.

Where portable augers are used, there are mechanical entanglement concerns and the possibility of electrocution should the auger strike an overhead power line. When planning a bin storage work area, consider underground electrical service.

Another hazard can be exposure to grain dust. Organic dust can affect many individuals and long-term exposure to high levels is well-documented to reduce pulmonary function. Proper ventilation and personal protective equipment can prevent or greatly minimize exposure, particularly in an enclosed area such as a bin or silo.

Appropriate protection depends on levels encountered, time spent, an enclosed space and the nature of the work to be preformed. The recommended protection can range from a simple N95 mask to a half-face HEPA respirator to full-face self-contained or supplied air units.

There are many protective masks and respirators on the market. It is best to ask a reputable dealer to assist you in the selection of an appropriate one for a given set of circumstances.

Grain and other organic dusts can also be fire and explosive hazards, so there should not be any open flame or smoking around a bin.

Hazards associated with augers can be on both ends of the storage process. Augers and handling equipment to load the bins can be dangerous. Most new bins will have internal augers and sweeps used for transferring the product to another bin or to a truck for transport to market.

No one should be allowed inside a bin without a “lockout” installed on all electrical and mechanical systems. When someone needs to enter a bin, that person should wear a safety harness and have at least two persons outside to secure a safety line in the event of problems.

In the event a system activates, a person can very quickly sink in grain, which acts like quicksand, and suffocate within minutes. If a person sinks to the bottom of the bin he could become entangled in moving equipment. Any person entering a bin should always wear appropriate respiratory protection.

Grain storage bins are often equipped with ladders to allow access to upper levels and to the roof. These range from a simple sidewall ladder, with or without a safety cage, to a full-size stairway curving around the bin. While technically adequate to reach and provide access to the upper level of bins, the ladders and steps can be quite steep. Persons using them should be careful to avoid falls and to always use safety harnesses when working at elevation or on a roof.

As with most situations in farming, children should not be allowed to play in the areas near grain bins.

For additional information and safety tips, contact the manufacture, dealer, installing contractor or a county Extension Agent.

The Delta Health Alliance, a non-profit organization based in Stoneville, Miss., advocates, develops, and implements collaborative programs to improve the health of citizens in the Delta. For more information about the Delta Health Alliance visit The Delta Health Alliance works with the Agromedicine Program, Mississippi State University Extension Service, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Bruce T. Brackin is with the University Medical Center. Maci Flautt works with the Mississippi Extension Service.

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