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Grain Bin Safety Tips to Protect Workers

Industrial / Construction, Safety Tips

It’s harvest time, and that means more activity at grain bins and facilities across the country. Sadly, experienced workers have already lost their lives in grain bins incidents this year. Grain handling is a high hazard activity where workers can be exposed to numerous serious and life threatening hazards. These hazards include: fires and explosions from grain dust accumulation, suffocation from engulfment and entrapment in grain bins, falls from heights and crushing injuries and amputations from grain handling equipment.

“Far too many preventable incidents continue to occur in the grain-handling industry,” said Kim Stille, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City. “Every employee working in the grain industry must be trained on grain-handling hazards and given the tools to ensure they do not enter a bin or silo without required safety equipment. They must also take all necessary precautions – this includes using lifelines, testing the atmosphere inside a bin and turning off and locking out all powered equipment to prevent restarting before entering grain storage structures.”

Incidents in grain bins often result in multiple deaths when other workers attempt to rescue their coworkers and become trapped or overcome as well. Pulling out a worker who is trapped in a grain bin requires a great deal of force, much more than is needed to rescue someone from under water. Grain resists the force a rescuer uses when trying to remove a buried worker. Rescue systems must be designed to overcome this resistance. A rescuer’s strength alone is not likely to be enough to rescue a trapped worker.

The control of worker’s exposure to hazards in grain handling facilities are addressed in the OSHA standard for grain handling facilities (29 CFR 1910.272), as well as in other general industry standards. These standards reduce the risk to workers by requiring that employers follow established, common sense safety practices when working in grain handling facilities.

Here are some grain handling safety facts and tips from OSHA and the Grain Handling Safety Coalition to help keep workers safe.

Grain Safety Facts

  • The majority of engulfments occur when unloading equipment is running.
  • Entanglement in PTO’s, augers, and other moving equipment is a leading cause of injury and death. Never remove safety guards, and keep them in food repair.
  • Out-of-condition grain poses one of the greatest risks for entrapment/ engulfment. Crusted grain signals DANGER! You should normally sink about 12” (ankle deep) when walking on corn. If you aren’t sinking, get out! There is a high risk you will break through the crust and become entrapped or engulfed.
  • The faster grain flows the faster you become submerged. Grain only needs to remove the body volume of a person to completely cover you. The average body volume is 5-7 cubic feet. It can take as little as 5 seconds to become totally engulfed. An average 10-inch auger unloading at a rate of 4,086 bushels per hour will completely engulf a person in just under 60 seconds.

OSHA Grain Bin Safety Tips and Employer Requirements

When workers enter storage bins, employers must (among other things):

  • Turn off and lock out all powered equipment associated with the bin, including augers used to help move the grain, so that the grain is not being emptied or moving out or into the bin. Standing on moving grain is deadly; the grain can act like “quicksand” and bury a worker in seconds. Moving grain out of a bin while a worker is in the bin creates a suction that can pull the worker into the grain in seconds.
  • Test the air within a bin or silo prior to entry for the presence of combustible and toxic gases, and to determine if there is sufficient oxygen.
  • If detected by testing, vent hazardous atmospheres to ensure that combustible and toxic gas levels are reduced to non hazardous levels, and that sufficient oxygen levels are maintained.
  • Prohibit walking down grain and similar practices where an employee walks on grain to make it flow.
  • Provide all employees a body harness with a lifeline, or a boatswains chair, and ensure that it is secured prior to the employee entering the bin.
  • Provide an observer stationed outside the bin or silo being entered by an employee. Ensure the observer is equipped to provide assistance and that their only task is to continuously track the employee in the bin.
  • Prohibit workers from entry into bins or silos underneath a bridging condition, or where a build-up of grain products on the sides could fall and bury them.
  • Train all workers for the specific hazardous work operations they are to perform when entering and working inside of grain bins.
  • Ensure a permit is issued for each instance a worker enters a bin or silo, certifying that the precautions listed above have been implemented.

More Resources:

Visit the OSHA gain handling page for more information.
Download an OSHA grain-handling safety poster (pdf).
Review grain-handling safety facts from the Grain Handling Safety Coalition.
Browse Grain Bin safety signs at