Ag safety expert discusses dangers of grain bin entrapment - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Agriculture safety expert discusses dangers of grain bin entrapment


Despite the overall reduction of other agriculture-related accidents, grain bin entrapment is on the rise.

That's according to Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, based in Peosta. He said he attributes the rise in grain bin entrapments to the rise of corn producers nationwide, as the recent high price of corn is enticing growers to switch to that from other crops.

While most grain businesses have to follow safety procedures in grain bins that include a full body safety harness and a second person outside the bin watching and feeding in rope, family operations in Iowa with 11 or fewer employees do not have to follow those rules, Neenan said.

"That doesn't mean that family farm people going into the bin shouldn't follow those safety practices as well," Neenan said.

The safety equipment costs money, Neenan said, but "You have to take a look at your return on your investment there. A body harness may cost $250, the roping may be a couple hundred dollars, but if you get engulfed in there, just one air ambulance ride, you know-- you've paid for that equipment five or six times over."

There are four main reasons people get trapped a bin, Neenan said.

The first is when a person is in the grain bin with the auger running.

"With the size of today's auger, it can take a full size person and sink them to their waist in 15 seconds and completely submerge them within 30 seconds," Neenan said, adding people need to lock out and tag out the auger before going into the bin.

Another reason is called crusting and bridging conditions. That's when grain goes into the bin out of condition, or with a high moisture content, and freezes over the top. While the grain drains from the bottom of the bin, the crust on top hides the void beneath. When a person steps on the false top of the grain, they can fall through.

Also, grain can get caked up on the side of the bin and fall on a person when he or she is trying to shake it loose it with a shovel or pole.

The fourth main reason for grain bin entrapment, Neenan said, is grain vacuums. If someone puts the grain vacuum at his feet and isn't paying full attention, he could create a void beneath him and sink into that.

The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety is home to one of just a handful of grain entrapment simulators nationwide. Neenan takes it around the Midwest, teaching emergency responders how to deal with the highly dangerous situation.

"If you were to sink a 165 pound person to their waist, it's going to take 465 pounds of upward pressure to be able to pull them out of that bin, and so you'd pull the arms right off of people, so pulling them out is not the answer," Neenan said. "Building the coffer dam around them and then evacuating the grain from inside the tube is how we go about releasing someone from the grain."

Telegraph Herald reporter Ben Jacobson, then reporting for a different paper, wrote a firsthand article on his simulated rescue.

"By the time the grain got to my shins, close to my knees, I couldn't move my legs out at all, so it was a frightening sensation to realize that, you know, I was trapped," Jacobson recounted. "I was kind of at the mercy of the grain to stop pulling me down."

The equipment for a grain rescue costs several thousand dollars, which is more than the average volunteer fire department can easily afford. That's why Neenan recommends one shared set per county and enough people who know how to use it.

For more information on grain bin entrapments and safety, check out the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety website HERE.

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