Something remarkable happened in southern Indiana just before the end of the year. A worker was trapped in grain inside a bin, and lived to tell about it. Even then, he was injured. Rescue crews did a miraculous job of freeing him from the corn mass. His head was above the mass, explaining why he may have survived.
Bill Field says more than 90% of the time, grain bin entrapments are fatal. That's why a successful rescue catches people's attention. Still, it doesn't diminish the power flowing grain has to trap and kill victims, no matter what size or age. Field is a Purdue University Extension farm safety specialist.
Grain bin entrapments or falls from bins are not the number one killer on farms. Instead, it's tractor accidents, particularly tractor rollovers. Accidents involving tractors have always accounted for a sizable portion of farm deaths and injuries here, and they still do, even today.
But what makes grain bin entrapments more of an issue this winter in Indiana is the condition of much of the grain when it went into the bin. Some areas, particularly southern Indiana and northeastern Indiana, notes Richard Stroshine, a Purdue University grain quality specialist, were plagued with sizable amounts of mold that grew in the fields before corn was harvested. Once in the bin, defective, once diseased kernels are more susceptible to breakage, leading to more fines. The buildup of fines, usually in the center of the bin, is never good for corn storage, Stroshine notes. The fact that kernels were already damaged when they enter the bin also makes them more susceptible to different fungi that can grow and flourish inside stored grain in bins.
The net result could be more hot spots, moldy grain and clumps of grain that bridge over the unloading port than normal, Stroshine says. Many fatal grain bin entrapments occur in those types of situations. Farmers or employees often enter the bin with a rod to poke clogs free from the unloading opening, so grain will flow out into the unloading auger again.
Never enter a bin with the auger running, Field advises. Always work in pairs. Make sure other employees who could possibly come to the bin know that someone is inside. Use a spotter, someone at the top of the bin, while you're inside poking clogs free, even with the unloading auger off. The best policy is to shut off the breaker to the unloading moor so that no one could turn it on, even if they happened by while you were inside the bin.
Be safe. You may be frustrated unloading poor-quality corn. But it's better to be frustrated and safe, rather than to become a statistic.