After my good friend, Dave Buck, Milton, died in a grain bin accident several years ago, I wrote several stories trying to warn about the dangers of working in bins alone with the auger running. In Dave's case, he even had a walkie–talkie radio, his son-in-law outside, and was tied of by a rope to the side of the bin. When he apparently broke the clog free and the unprecedented power of flowing grain took him under the pile, none of that helped. His son-in-law never heard anything over the radio, and the rope pulled the bolts out of the ladder so hard that the top of the ladder was bent 90 degrees straight out. Dave didn't survive.
One of the emails I received after doing those stories was from someone, an individual, who was working on a shut-off switch so someone acting as a lookout at the top of the bin could shut off the auger immediately if he sensed the person was in trouble. There are a matter of seconds and at most a minute or two to act to prevent serious injury or death in these situations.
Bill Field, Purdue university safety extension specialist, notes that indeed, such technology exists. However, grain bin makers have been slow to consider adding it to their products. Field is on a committee of ag engineers that have worked to get manufacturers to consider such shut-offs at points of entry to bins as standard equipment. So far, their efforts have not been successful.
Some bin makers also make devices that sit over the top of the unloading well that are designed to bust up potential clogs before they reach the grain well, shutting off flow of grain to the auger. Some farmers have even made their own, and a few still use them. However, Field reports that he hears many say they tend to slow down grain flow out of the bin, enough so that people are unwilling to use them.
Safety in grain bins has been an issue since ear corn cribs gave way to grain bins, even when bins held a few thousand bushels instead of hundreds of thousands of bushels of corn or soybeans. It will likely continue to be an issue.
Keep grain in condition in the first place, and eliminate the need to go in there as often, if ever, Field advises. Then when it's absolutely necessary to go in, use safety precautions, such as going in with the auger shut off and using a spotter a the top of the bin. If no one else is around and you're convinced you must go inside, shut off the electrical power to the unloading auger so that if an employee comes upon the scene to unload, he can't turn on the auger, not knowing you're inside. Consider installing multiple unloading wells so that if one clogs, another stays open and grain still flows.
Every one of these suggestions is derived from a case where not doing what's suggested was the root cause of a tragedy. Perhaps the best thing you could do this fall is post a big picture of your wife and kids on the grain bin door by the unloading auger where you can't miss it. Glance at it every time you even think about going inside the bin. Then do what your heart tells you to do.