Machinery Chatter

UM Safety Specialist: Avoid Inhaling Grain Dust

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Avoid inhaling dust during harvest. (DTN photo by Elaine Shein)

This week, Sept. 20-26, is Farm Safety and Health Week. This is a time for all of us involved in production agriculture to assess our farming operations to make sure we are working as safely as possible. Right before harvest ramps up, it is a good idea to make sure you are doing taking adequate safety measures for you, your family members and hired employees.

One area in which farmers can focus some of their safety attention is avoid inhaling grain dust. There is much dust present as the crop is harvested and the grain is being moved to town or into on-farm bins.

Farmers should always utilize a dust mask or respirator when working around grain, Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri Extension state health and safety specialist, said in a news release. Farmers should require workers around grain to wear protective gear that prevents injury, illness and unnecessary medical bills, she said.

Funkenbusch said grain dust contains plant material, mold spores, insect parts and their excretions, bacteria and soil. Mold spores attach to dust and exposure to dust can cause wheezing, sore throats, eye and nose irritation and congestion.

"If entering a moldy grain bin, workers should be equipped with a high-efficiency respirator capable of filtering fine dust," Funkenbusch said.

She also recommends ventilating fumigated bins for several hours before entering.

Funkenbusch recommends workers use masks and respirators when they are around grain dust. Respirators are available in a variety of types, sizes and costs at farm supply and hardware stores.

Regardless of what mask or respirator you select, she said to choose one that fits securely around the mouth and nose.

"Always try before you buy," Funkenbusch said.

Have a trained person perform a fit test, she said. A correctly fitted respirator makes a good seal with your face.

To do a fit test on your own, put on the respirator and place your palm over the exhale port.

During exhalation, the respirator should push out slightly from your face. Next you should cover the inhale ports, or filters and inhale and hold for 10 seconds. The respirator should suck back onto your face and maintain good suction for the entire time. If you don't get a good seal, adjust the straps and reposition the respirator, she added.

Funkenbusch said if you smell or taste a contaminant or become dizzy while wearing a respirator, you need to get out of the area and into fresh air immediately.

Glasses, gum, chewing tobacco and facial hair interfere with proper sealing, she said. To avoid these issues wear respirators on clean-shaven faces, use adaptors if you wear glasses and avoid contact lenses because contaminants can stick to them and cause eye damage.

Periodically check your respirator for damage and dirt, according to Funkenbusch. Don't try to repair or substitute non-manufacturer parts and be sure to clean the respirator often in warm, soapy water. When dry, store in a sealed plastic bag.

"Respirators can prevent many respiratory ailments associated with farming -- but only if you wear one," Funkenbusch said. "If you maintain and clean it regularly, the small investment that a respirator costs you now might save you and your family the expense of large medical bills later in life," she said.

Funkenbusch suggests these other safety tips for harvest time:

-- Clean combine air filters before and during harvest.

-- Adjust combine settings to reduce grain damage that will produce dust.

-- Dry and ventilate grain properly before storing.

-- Properly ventilate storage buildings.

-- Wet down feed before transferring.

-- Wet down bins when cleaning them out.

For more information, the MU Extension guide "How to Protect Yourself From Respiratory Hazards" (G1935) is available online at….

For more information about National Farm Safety & Health Week, visit the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety website at….

Russ Quinn can be reached at

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