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Grain bin safety must be priority this harvest season

LANSING, MI -- With harvest season approaching, the Michigan Agri-Business Association (MABA) once again reminded farmers and grain handlers across Michigan to take proactive steps to prevent grain engulfment.

Suffocation in grain bins, or engulfment, is an all-too-common problem that's often caused by entering grain bins that have hardened at the top, or "walking down the grain" without proper safety equipment and trained observers on hand. Flowing grain can engulf a worker in just a few seconds - and tragically, about half of grain engulfment situations result in death.

"Grain engulfment is entirely preventable, and as an industry we need to constantly remind ourselves to be safe around grain," said MABA president Jim Byrum. "Working in a grain bin is never a time to rush. We're reminding everyone to take time for planning, work with someone else in the bin, and always use a safety harness. Taking time to plan ahead, train workers and develop a response plan can and will save lives."

According to Purdue University researchers led by Dr. Bill Field, who tracks grain bin entrapment, at least 38 such incidents were recorded nationwide in 2014. Even in a good year with lower grain moisture content, grain will inevitably harden in bins. Farmers should be proactive in protecting grain quality and be especially cautious when quality begins to decline.

The Purdue study also highlights other hazards associated with confined agricultural spaces, including falls, fire and equipment accidents, emphasizing the need for to follow safety procedures when operating around grain bins.

MABA promotes these best management practices when handling grain:

1. Stay out of grain bins if at all possible

2. Never enter a grain bin alone, and always have a trained spotter outside the bin who monitors what is going on inside the structure

3. Never enter a bin without proper training

4. Use an oxygen meter to test air quality and oxygen availability before entering bins

5. Follow proper entry permit requirements, including using a harness and lifeline

6. Before entering, shut down all powered grain moving equipment and follow lockout/tag procedures

7. Secure a lifeline to anyone working in a grain bin

8. Always be prepared and know how to contact rescue-trained personnel

"All of us in the industry can help reduce preventable deaths in grain bins, especially among farmers with new grain storage who may still be learning best practices to stay safe," said Byrum. "By constantly taking steps to educate and inform workers in commercial grain facilities, as well as farmers with their own storage, and ensuring they're prepared before they enter a bin and know what to do in case of an emergency, we can save lives."

More information on grain bin safety is available at or