Gift of safety

The Topeka Fire Department received a donation in February 2020 to cover the cost of purchasing a new grain bin rescue device. The device, at left, allows firefighters to build a wall of protection around a victim of a grain bin accident, protecting him as the grain around him is carefully removed . On hand for the check presentation were Ron Troyer, town of Topeka; Steward Bender, Topeka fire chief; Mike Cunningham, a local Pioneer seed dealer; Justin Cunningham, a Pioneer seed dealer; and Paul Georgen, a regional Pioneer seed company representative.

In a normal farming year, grain that is harvested can be air-dried during storage and, when needed, an auger stirs the dry grains so they flow steadily from the bottom of the bins onto a conveyor.

Farmers sometimes must enter the bins to break up clumps or clogs in order to get the grain to flow out freely — a practice that is inherently dangerous owing to the risk of entrapment or suffocation within the grain, which can move or settle almost like quicksand.

Once entrapped, it is nearly impossible for a person to pull himself or herself out to safety, and very difficult for someone else to lift the person from the grain, experts say.

One foot of grain in a bin can create about 300 pounds of pressure, so even with just 2 feet of grain surrounding a body, it takes an enormous amount of pull strength to lift someone out.

Entrapment and full engulfment can occur very quickly when an augur is running or grain is flowing for any other reason. According to OSHA, a person in a bin has only two seconds to react once grain starts flowing beneath him. Entrapment can occur in four to five seconds, and full engulfment can result in only 22 seconds.

Efforts are underway to improve grain-bin safety, including educational programs that urge farmers never to go into a bin when machinery is running, to have someone else present before entering a bin and to wear protective gear such as a safety harness or lifeline.

The United States averaged about 35 reported grain-handling incidents per year from 2005 to 2015, about 60% to 70% of which were fatal, according to Purdue University. The actual number of entrapments is likely a third higher, because many nonfatal incidents are never reported.

Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana have tracked confined-space incidents on American farms, including grain bin entrapments and deaths, for 40 years. Here is a look at overall confined-space incidents and deaths and grain bin incidents and deaths over the past three years. Incident totals are likely a third higher because many non-fatal incidents are never reported.

Total confined-space incidents/fatalities

• 2017 — 54 incidents, 23 deaths;

• 2018 — 61 incidents, 27 deaths;

• 2019 — 67 incidents, 39 deaths.

Grain bin entrapments/fatalities

• 2017 — 23 entrapments, 12 deaths;

• 2018 — 30 entrapments, 15 deaths;

• 2019 — 38 entrapments, 23 deaths;

On Saturday, Feb. 27, at 6 p.m., the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, in sponsorship with The Andersons, Bunge, Farmers & Merchants State Bank, Indiana Farm Bureau, Beacon Credit Union, Garrett State Bank, Kenn Feld Group, MacAllister Machinery and Custer Grain, will feature the movie “Silo” as a chance to share what happens during a grain bin entrapment.

John Hawkins, managing director for American Farm Bureau Federation, says, “‘SILO’ lays bare the many, very real stresses of life on the farm, especially the physical dangers. It places equal emphasis on how rural communities come together when a neighbor is in need.”

People who wish to view the film must register online at dekalbcounty.eventbrite.com. Only 500 viewing “spots” are available. Tickets will be awarded on a first come, first served basis, and registration will be open until the film begins. The Eventbrite ticket does not include a link to the film. That information will be shared directly by email.

On Feb. 26, those who have registered and secured a viewing spot will receive a reminder email with the community screening web page. On the day of the screening, 15 minutes before the film’s start time, those registered will receive an email with the password required to watch the movie. The screening link will expire at 7:15 p.m.

Anyone with questions about the virtual screening of “SILO” should contact Sarah Delbecq at sarah@brechbillfarms.com or Jim Miller at miller4094@yahoo.com.

Elysia Rodgers is the agriculture and natural resource educator for Purdue Extension-DeKalb County.

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