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Staying safe with grain handling

Staying safe with grain handling

Farmers can work safely to prevent dangers of silo gas, dryer fires, and grain entrapment

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

Farmer are no strangers to hard work and problem-solving on the fly to wrap up the end of a difficult harvest season. However, when overworked, it’s easy to become less vigilant about safety equipment and proper protocol.

So, since farming can present dangers, James Dyck, an engineering specialist at OMAFRA, discussed common harvest-time hazards.

When corn or other crops are ensiled, they ferment and release dangerous gases, Dyck told The gases may include carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, both of which are invisible and potentially fatal if inhaled.

“You can’t necessarily see (these gases) you might go into a silo and there’s no (oxygen) in there and so you collapse,” he said.

The best way to avoid silo gas is “not entering. If you do need to enter, you need to wear a full, self-contained air system, or you need to make sure that that silo is completely ventilated,” he explained.

“You need to absolutely make sure that the air in there is adequate for you to enter, and the best way to do that is with a full breathing system.”

Once silos are filled, producers typically transition to grain harvest. In a year like 2019, grain dryers are running almost constantly to keep up with the high-moisture corn coming off the field.

“You’ve got a massive burner in there; you literally have open flame,” Dyck said. “Depending on the crop and season, there can be a lot of dust and fines. If (the dryer’s) not managed well, if it heats up too much, or if dust gets in there or fines start to plug up vents, that’s where fires start to happen.”

Operators can use a pressure washer or broom in a grain dryer to “physically clean it on a daily or weekly or monthly basis, whatever’s needed. Just keeping the flammable materials down,” he said.

“Make sure that your system is in good working order,” Dyck advised.  “Accidents happen but there’s a lot that farmers can do just by simple housekeeping and maintenance that will help to prevent that kind of thing.”

Finally, Dyck emphasized the danger of flowing grain.  

“Grain is like quicksand,” he said. “You can get trapped a lot more easily than I think a lot of people realize.”

Grain entrapment often occurs when an individual attempts to knock stuck or crusted grain loose from a truck or storage bin. The situation can have deadly consequences.

It is dangerous “even getting trapped up to the waist in grain,” Dyck said.

“You can’t just pull somebody free if he or she is trapped to the waist. (First responders) need to use specialized rescue equipment.”

That equipment is called a cofferdam, which is “a cylinder or a box that (first responders) build around the person who’s trapped. Then you can scoop out the grain from the inside of that box. The box drops down and prevents the grain from re-entering that cavity, so you sort of slowly excavate the person,” Dyck explained.

The best-case scenario, of course, is avoiding entrapment altogether.

“Never enter any kind of grain storage structure or truck if the grain is moving. If the auger is running, don’t go in there,” Dyck said.

Farmers should turn augers off and “actually lock it out too. Put a padlock on the switch,” he added.

When entering a grain bin, “make sure that you’re tied off, and not just with a rope around your belt. Use a proper safety harness,” he said. The harness should attach to a rescue line that could be used in case of emergency.

“If the grain does collapse, you’re not underneath it – you’re sort of hanging beside it,” Dyck said.

In general, when undertaking any dangerous job, a farmer shouldn’t be alone. Have someone nearby who knows what you’re doing and can call for help in case of an emergency, Dyck said.

fotokostic\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo


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