Farmers, ag industry leaders, and especially volunteer firefighters need training on grain bin safety and rescue procedures, according to a speaker addressing the recent Mississippi State University Seed Technology Short Course.
The two-day event considered all things seed-related, from field to bin, including harvest management, grain bin safety, state seed laws, and much more.
John Hubbard, senior safety specialist of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, talked on grain bin safety and what to do in the case of a grain bin-related accident.
Hubbard instructs fire departments on how to rescue individuals who become trapped in grain bins on the farm. He recently received a grant through Monsanto (now Bayer) to purchase a simulator to enhance the course he offers fire departments and to allow firefighters a way to practice the proper rescue procedures. The program, a three-hour, in-service training course for firefighters in the states of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, has been credited with six lives saved and is continuing to branch out to the surrounding states.
“People go into grain bins all the time to check things like moisture content, and typically, when someone goes in, they do not have a harness or rope,” Hubbard said. “We need to train firefighters on matters like rescuing a farmer stuck in a grain bin, so they know what to expect. Firefighters are often volunteers and may not have any experience being on a farm.”
Hubbard said the program started about 18 years ago when the number of grain bins in Mississippi started rising.
“In the past, when the fire department got a call to come out for a grain bin rescue, it often meant a body recovery. Now, we have people walking out of it,” he said. “I’ve been a firefighter for 32 years, and grain bin rescues are a completely different animal that requires different equipment and methods.”
Alone and exhausted
Often, an accident happens when a farmer is working alone and is exhausted.
“If a farmer has been out on the farm by himself and gets into an accident, it is usually not discovered right away. Instead, he or she is looked for when they don’t show up to supper that night or hasn’t been heard from in a while,” Hubbard said. “Fatigue is another factor. Frequently, a farmer has been working long hours, which makes you more prone to mistakes.”
Accidents involving grain bins don’t just occur with farmers on a job, but there have also been cases of children or the elderly getting trapped in grain bins, which adds another factor firefighters must be aware of when handling an incident.
“Another hindrance in grain bin rescue is when a department receives a call, the area they have to go to is secluded, and they need good directions to get to the grain bin,” he said. “Some counties in Mississippi are incorporating GPS locations for bin clusters in the area, so they can provide a GPS coordinate to the bins.”
Once the firefighters have found the bins, though, they do not always know which bin a person may be trapped in, adding another layer of difficulty and danger.
“A farmer may have all his bins open to air out, so there is no way of knowing which one he may be in. With all these factors, grain bin accidents are a tricky business,” Hubbard said.
He also said the idea that keeping your feet moving while in a grain bin will allow you to walk out is a false assumption.
“We can show through our simulator how an individual can be waist deep within 15 seconds, and within 30 seconds, the grain can be over his head,” he said. “A lot of people believe they can pull someone out of a grain bin, but that’s false, too. If an individual is waist deep, it takes 325 pounds of force to pull them out of the grain. That is not something anyone is able to do, and if it were, it would harm the person trapped.”
Farmers usually get trapped in a grain bin from flowing grain, crusted grain, or a grain avalanche. Flowing grain occurs when someone enters a grain bin and another person starts loading grain into the bin without knowing anyone is in there. Crusted grain, also known as a grain bridge, becomes a problem when someone walks out on what appears to be a solid surface and the crusted grain collapses, and then they fall 15 to 20 feet. The third way a person can become entrapped is if grain piles from top to bottom on one side of a bin and a farmer comes in to break up the grain and causes a grain avalanche.
“Something to keep in mind if you go into a grain bin is that you need to have someone there to spot you,” Hubbard said. “You need a good quality harness and a lifeline of about 6 feet worth of slack.”
Three things to do if someone gets trapped in a grain bin: stop all grain unloading, start aeration, and call for help.
“The first thing that should be done is to stop all grain flow,” he said. “If you can’t see the individual because they are below grain level, the second thing to do is to start aeration because they may have their shirt or hat over their mouth, and the air circulation can give them a little more time. If they are above grain level, you do not turn on aeration. Thirdly, call 911 to get help.”
Hubbard says the most important thing in of this type of accident is knowing what to do and what not to do.
“If you have to go in a grain bin, although I hope you don’t have to, make sure you have a harness and rope to tie off at the top of the bin,” Hubbard said. “An accident is unlikely, but unlikely worries me, because that’s when we start making mistakes. No one believes they are going to get in an accident before it happens, so we need to take the necessary precautions.”