Prepare grain bins responsibly using these safety tips

(Journal photo by Lacey Vilhauer.)

As harvest season quickly approaches, Iowans are reminded to practice safety around grain bins and grain handling equipment.

There were nine reported grain entrapments in Iowa in 2022, more than any other state, according to an annual report by Purdue University.

Agricultural confined-space related cases of injuries and fatalities saw a dramatic rise in 2022, including grain entrapment cases, which rose nearly 45%.

Nearly all of these cases involved grain flow issues due to grain spoilage, which means that improved grain management could help prevent cases in the future, according to Kristina TeBockhorst, an agricultural engineer with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

In order to get Iowans information to help keep them, their employees and their families safe around grain, TeBockhorst is publishing a series of short articles that highlight important considerations for grain safety, including storing grain without spoilage.

Her first article covers grain bin preparation—how to safely clean and prepare bins before new grain arrives.

“Now is the time to take inventory of your bins and ensure they are in good condition for the new crop,” said TeBockhorst. “These to-do lists aren’t fun, but they will help minimize grain spoilage from insect and mold activity and moisture entry.”

Before cleaning out old grain, be sure you have on your NIOSH-approved respirator that is certified for grain dusts, and that it fits your face to fully seal and protect you.

She advises farmers to “start with a clean bin, exterior bin perimeter, and handling equipment” by removing potential food sources for pests, including residual grain, broken kernels, fines, foreign material, dusts and molds.

  1. Sweep the bin walls and floor, making sure to clean the tops of doors, inside hollow pipes or ladders, and inside of augers.
  2. Trim down vegetation, remove grain material and debris, and consider using a rodenticide around the bin’s outer perimeter.
  3. Clean out dust and debris from harvesting and handling equipment, like combines, trucks, wagons, augers, and in grain legs and elevators.
  4. While the bin is empty, check mechanical parts and conduct needed maintenance, seal gaps or cracks along the bin, and check the roof for potential spots that could leak, especially around the vents or access doors.
  5. If fines or Indian meal moth silks are starting to plug up the space below the floor, it is time to remove the floor to vacuum or power wash.
  6. If the aeration floor can’t be removed, fumigation is the best option to eliminate carryover insects.
  7. Check that ladders are in good condition and consider upgrading them with cages or replacing with staircases.
  8. Assemble your safety equipment for your grain storage facility, like respirators, life harnesses, and lock-out tag-out kits for unloading equipment.
  9. Ensure that all bin entry points have clear warning labels so that all are aware of the hazards. Also be sure that kids can’t enter bins and that they know of the hazards when they live or spend time around stored grain.

In her next installment, TeBockhorst will address safety concerns related to grain handling equipment. For more information, she can be reached at 319-337-2145 or [email protected]

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