The scene was all too familiar. It was late August, and television crews were all gathered around a grain bin, which they called a silo, and it was huge. It was a commercial grain elevator located in Lapel in Madison County. Someone was presumably trapped inside. By the time the five o'clock news came on, it was a rescue mission since the person had been in the elevator located in lapel for seven hours. Based on work by Bill Field, Purdue University safety specialist, it probably was actually a rescue mission just minutes after the victim was sucked under the grain.
The setting was all too familiar. A worker in a grain bin alone- trying to free up grain flow. He had no way to shut off the auger if grain started flowing, and apparently no one was working with him to do it for him. Rescue crews knew it would be a sad ending when they first found a shoe near the bottom of the bin, confirming that the missing employee was indeed inside.
Just two years ago this week, a very similar scenario played out on the Dick Henderson farm near Franklin. Dick went inside a bin. His sons were present, but didn't know he went inside. Exactly what happened will never be known, but somehow he fell into the grain pile with the auger working, and he suffocated in the grain mess. Local media, reaching the Indianapolis area, converged then too, giving the horrible incident lead coverage.
Unfortunately, Bill Field, safety specialist, says the number of grain bin deaths is trending upward. And what's more surprising, it's happening more often in commercial facilities these days, rather than just always on the farm.
"Overall, farm deaths are trending down in Indiana on an annual basis, and that's good," Field says. "And grain deaths still make up only a fraction of total farm fatalities per year. Tractor roll-over incidents are still much more numerous. But the grain bin situations seem to attract more attention from the popular press, especially radio and TV people."
The precautions to avoid these situations haven't changed, Field stresses. It's still critical to work with someone. Lock out the electrical power to the unloading auger before you enter the bin to prevent someone from turning it on, not knowing you're in there.
Like it or not, the number one rule is to still not be in the bin with the auger running. Climb in the bin and work on the clog with the power off if you must, he says. It may take longer to resolve the issue, but a few minutes are insignificant compared to the lifetime you might still enjoy if you stay safe.