Observe Proper Bin Safety Practices

Remember Grain Bin Safety When Working Near Stored Grain

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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More people in 2022 were hurt or killed in grain bin incidents than in 2021, according to Purdue University Extension. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Despite events like Grain Bin Safety Week on Feb. 18-24, the number of farmworkers injured or killed in agricultural confined spaces incidents continues to rise. Those who work near stored grain need to follow established safety practices, and grain should be stored properly to prevent accidents, according to safety experts.


In the latest available report, the 2022 Summary of U.S. Confined Space-Related Injuries and Fatalities from Purdue University found the number of accidents with stored grain continues to grow (https://www.purdue.edu/…). There were 83 cases in 2022 involving agriculture-related confined space incidents; 24 were fatal and 59 were non-fatal. This represents a 40.7% increase over the 59 cases reported in 2021.

There were no fewer than 42 grain-related entrapments in 2022, representing a 44.8% increase over 2021. This is the highest number of grain entrapments in over a decade, according to the report. Grain entrapment is the most common agricultural confined space incident. Others include falls, asphyxiation/poisoning, entanglements and fire/explosion.

Iowa reported the most cases with 24 in 2022, including those related to fires and explosions, followed by Indiana (6), Minnesota (6) and Ohio (6).

One positive in the 2022 report was the number of fatal incidents at 29% compared to 59% historically.

Like with any farm accident, the thought that "it will never happen to me" is a common misconception, according to Emily Krekelberg, University of Minnesota Extension educator, farm safety and health, based in Rocester, Minnesota.

Farmers do the same tasks over and over, and often this lulls people into a false sense of security, she said. That is when accidents happen.

"It really is a mindset that needs to be altered," Krekelberg told DTN.

"You need to always be aware of the hazards and mitigate the risks."

The 2023 Summary of Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries and Fatalities will be released by Purdue Extension in the spring of 2024.

For a personal perspective on the devasting impact of a grain bin accident, see "A Letter to Brian" at https://www.dtnpf.com/….


Those who work with stored grain should educate themselves on the dangers of grain bins and flowing grains, Krekelberg said. She urged farmworkers to observe basic safety recommendations when working with grain bins.

The first is to use lock-out/tag-out equipment when working on grain-handling facilities. Physically putting a lock on the equipment's power supply would prevent someone from starting the unloading auger, for instance, while someone else is working on it, she said.

Another basic safety rule is not to go into a bin. If someone must go in, Krekelberg recommends they use a safety harness.

Farmers often cite the lack of available funds as an obstacle to purchasing grain bin safety equipment. There are ways around this, she said.

"The state of Minnesota has a cost-share program available to farmers to purchase bin safety equipment," she said. "I tell people the cost of safety equipment is needed to avoid the cost of a funeral or a hospital stay."

Personal protection equipment (PPE) is an important part of safety on farms (https://extension.umn.edu/…). It should be used when working near stored grain and grain bins, Krekelberg said.

Shane Stutzman with Summit Contracting of Seward, Nebraska, said that while grain bin manufacturers are working toward a more zero-entry policy, those who work with stored grain know they still must enter bins at certain times. However, there are practical safety rules that can be followed, he said.

This list includes using a safety harness, which would be tied to an anchor point in the bin, and never working alone. Other safety rules include having a fully charged cellphone, and perhaps most importantly, knowing the condition of the stored grain, he said.


When grain goes out of condition, a crust can shield an empty cavity that can collapse, engulfing a person in a split second. Out-of-condition grain makes the situation much more dangerous, Stutzman said.

"I would encourage anyone in this circumstance to reach out and get help unloading the bin," he added.

Stutzman said there are many tools available today to closely monitor the grain's condition. These products can even control fans to avoid the issues that cause grain bridging.

He recommends a system with a moisture cable and automatic fan control that logs data onto the cloud, making it easily accessible to keep tabs on the grain. This can signal hot spots in the bin, but more importantly, the system can run fans automatically to prevent a dangerous spoiled grain situation.

If cost is a major consideration, systems are available at different price points.

Stutzman said a common issue this time of year that puts farmers in unsafe situations are frozen or rotten clumps of grain that flow into the center sump of the unloading system when taking the first load out. Before removing the first load, check the grain peak for clumps.

"Plugged sumps are fairly easy to avoid," Stutzman said.

Other factors, such as a farmer's age and physical ability and the size of the grain bin, also should be considered with grain bin safety.

With the average age of farmers now at 57.5, according to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, Krekelberg said age is a factor regarding grain bin safety. Older folks or those not in good physical shape may not move as quickly as they once did. They should ask themselves if they can still physically perform tasks such as removing grain from a bin, she said.

"Having someone else around to respond would also be a good idea," Krekelberg said.

Stutzman noted farmers are building larger grain bins than in the past. More bushels in larger bins increases the risk of being engulfed.

Those working with larger bins need to keep in mind the unloading equipment is usually much faster, and even with grain that's in good condition, it can be easy to become submerged and engulfed, he said. The volume of grain avalanching to the center is much greater in larger bins compared to older bins with only about 6-12 feet of grain flowing.

"In a larger bin, that area of moving grain can be much deeper, so with a greater scale of grain (flowing) comes more danger," Stutzman said.


North Dakota State University Extension has a resource page on grain bin safety. You can view it here: https://www.ndsu.edu/….

The site also has figures diagraming how flowing grain can engulf a person with bridged grain, the collapse of a vertical mass of grain and how fast-flowing grain makes someone helpless.

Penn State University Extension has a 15-minute video on its website detailing grain bin safety. This site can be found at: https://extension.psu.edu/….

This DTN story (https://www.dtnpf.com/…) provides several tips and more information on the Grain Safety Coalition https://grainsafety.org/….

Read more about the movie "Silo," which brings the reality of grain entrapment to life here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @RussQuinnDTN

Russ Quinn