Grain bin safety: Zero entry mentality

Reduce the risk of grain entrapment by discouraging bin entry.

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Every year, we are reminded how dangerous grain storage can be. Flowing grain can create a potentially deadly entrapment that can crush or suffocate a person or persons within seconds.

Accidents can occur when you enter a bin to dislodge a bridge of grain that has formed over the top of the grain. It takes only 3 to 4 seconds for you to become entrapped in flowing grain. An average adult can become completely submerged in about 25 seconds.

Grain’s behavior and weight make it extremely difficult for you to get out of the grain without assistance. Tragically, incidents in grain bins can result in multiple fatalities when others attempt to rescue and become engulfed as well.

Entrapment can occur when standing:

  • On moving/flowing grain. The moving grain acts like quicksand and can bury you in seconds.
  • On or below a bridging condition. Bridging occurs when grain clumps together – usually because of moisture or mold – creating an empty space beneath the crust as grain is unloaded. If you stand on or below the bridged grain, it can collapse, either under your weight or unexpectedly, burying you.
  • Next to an accumulated pile of grain on the side of the bin. The grain pile can collapse onto you unexpectedly or while you attempt to dislodge it.

Zero entry mentality

The only true way to help reduce the risk of grain entrapment at your facility is to strongly discourage people from entering a bin, unless it’s absolutely necessary. That means developing a “zero entry mentality” with a focus on three key areas to help keep your people out of grain bins and harm’s way. Key areas include:   

  • Grain conditioning. Learn and practice better stored grain quality management and monitor the condition of your grain more closely. Most grain entrapment incidents develop around poorly flowing grain resulting from some type of grain spoilage issue. So if you can prevent spoilage, you may be able to eliminate the leading cause of bin entry.  
  • Reclaim systems. Design and install a reclaim system adequate for the size of bin and commodity involved. It should operate safely and efficiently without the need of operator entry. Provide large sump discharge holes in close proximity to each other on the bin floor. Consider intermediate holes with 24 in x 24 in (minimum) openings every 8 to 10 feet. Draw-off capacity and unloading design should complement handling capacities of the grain handling system. Center holes on 90 ft or larger bins should be 36 in x 36 in or 48 in x 48 in. Guard holes properly to prevent injuries.
  • Service tunnels. Provide larger service tunnels (at least 7 ft tall and 7 ft wide) in larger commercial facilities. Install larger outside access doors – not a simple 24 inch round opening in the side of the bins. These larger access doors should have a minimum 3 ft x 3 ft work platform under them with hand rails for safer operation.

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