Grain bin incidents involving workers inside bins besides entrapments have drawn attention lately. Some occur on farms, while others occur in commercial grain handling facilities. There have been so many incidents that groups like OSHA have become attentive. In some cases they're providing grants to groups that can help figure out how to reduce the number of incidents.
Bill Field, Purdue University Extension safety specialist, is involved in the heart of these studies and currently has some grant money to study these incidents. One of the problems he faces is getting federal officials to understand the type of accidents that are really occurring.
"When someone gets caught in an auger in a grain bin, it's often reported as a sweep auger incident," he says. "Some of the incidents that agencies find out about actually happen in forage storage silos, not grain bins, and involve forage unloaders. Unfortunately, it's difficult to help them understand the difference so they allow you to focus on the real problem."
In grain bins, sweep augers are involved in some incidents. However, Field contends more incidents are workers, especially young workers with little or no training, stepping into open in-floor auger instead of sweep augers. These are the augers that convey grain from inside the bin outside to an elevator to load it into a truck.
What's occurring is that bin makers are typically making these openings bigger, so that there is less chance grain will get stuck in it if it's crusted. The unintended consequence is that when someone unknowingly steps into one of those bigger openings, they don't just lose a foot, they may lose their leg up to the waist. That has happened to at least two young workers very recently, Field notes.
"The problem is that companies make guards with narrow openings. Once crusted grain begins balling up on them, the natural reaction is to take them out. Then there are no guards over these augers," he says.