We know the dangers of augers and PTOs. But we also need to be prepared for drowning in dry grain, or dust fires. Grain farming has its share of potentially deadly hazards. There are some obvious ones and some you may not think about.
Augers, PTOs and bin cleaners
Almost everyone has seen a video or knows of someone who has been caught by an auger or PTO shaft. We tell our children to stay away from them. We know the cautions by heart: don’t wear lose or torn clothing, don’t step over augers or moving PTO shafts, don’t attempt to unplug augers while operating, don’t remove guarding for moving parts. Keep equipment in good working order.
Auger and PTO accidents are two of the most common accidents on farms. Newer augers have better guarding that does not impede grain flow, but no guard can do its job if it is not in place or is not being used properly.
Assess your equipment for safety:
- Are guards in place and in good working order? Can they be replaced or repaired?
- Do you have a clear idea of the danger zone around augers and PTO shafts?
- Have you taken steps to reduce the risk of injury?
- Can you safely turn off the auger or PTO?
- According to statistics from Canada, the U.S. and Australia most PTO accidents happen at low speeds, or while the shaft is slowing down. This would indicate impatience as a factor. Slow down.
Bin cleaners and augers pushed into bins are meant to operate without people inside the bins. If you are shovelling inside a bin ensure the following steps are taken:
- The auger feed end is properly guarded.
- The bin cleaner is not engaged while workers are in the bin.
There is ventilation in the bin for breathing and visibility.
- Everyone is clear of augers and cleaners before they are turned on.
Augers are run by PTO via tractor or by electricity via a gas powered motor. Both types rely on belts to drive the augur. Belts are not always guarded, depending upon the age and type of auger. Ensure that any guards are in place and in good working condition. For belts that are not guarded ensure that approaches to the auger motor are done from the off side to the belts.
One of the most overlooked safety points on an auger are the wheels. They should be properly blocked so that they do not roll either filling or unloading.
Grain baggers and extractors
Grain baggers and extractors bring a unique set of safety concerns, besides the actual PTO hazard for filling and extracting.
Grain bagging requires the use of a tractor, which moves as the grain is dumped into the filler and pushed into the grain bag. Unlike most PTO operations with people on the ground the tractor is in motion. Ensure someone is always in the cab during grain bag loading. Ensure all guards are in place on the grain bagger and the bag is filling evenly. Do not walk or stand near the tractor or bagger during fill operations.
Consider grain baggers and extractors similar to any grain transfer process with some specific additional hazards. Those include handling the bagging roll, the extraction and filling PTO and auger roles and the physical hazards of the equipment for causing injury. It is essential that you and your staff, family and friends be fully oriented to their safe use.
Though often overlooked, dry drowning in grain is a real hazard and one that is frequently deadly when it occurs. It only takes three to four seconds to be pulled down into grain, and only 20 seconds for an adult to be completely covered. After that it only takes minutes to suffocate. With children it is tragically much faster.
It is impossible to pull, dig or climb out of deep grain where you don’t have a handhold, or can’t touch bottom. If the grain is taller than you, falling on you or past your waist you are in danger of suffocation.
Unless you have a safety harness and confined space training do not enter grain storage that is deeper than knee deep.
Grain acts much like dry quicksand where it pulls heavier things, like people, down quickly. Do not assume that this danger is only present in grain bins. Any place where grain is stored is a potential hazard, including grain piles (which can fall), crusted grain (which can collapse), or trucks and carts.
If someone does become trapped in grain do not use an auger to move the grain. Cut V-shaped drainage holes below the level of the person to allow grain to move out and away from them. Call emergency services for assistance as quickly as possible.
The best way to avoid dry drowning is to stay away from stored grain.
Exploding grain dust
Grain dust is highly explosive. If you are dealing with a fire near bins or a combine and you are moving grain keep people well away from the dust. The finer the grain dust the more explosive it is. Don’t assume this is a risk only at large grain elevators.
Here’s how this works. Dust fills the air with a lot of burnable surface. Any ignition can potentially cause an explosion including open flame, static, an electric arc, defective wiring, friction, matches or a lighter. A flame can move quickly through the dust in the air and lead to additional fires and cause serious injuries.
Be sure to have proper ventilation around grain dust, and reduce ignition sources wherever possible.
You may not think of exploding grain dust or dry drowning when you survey your farm yard, but they are real and present hazards. Assess your farm for safety hazards and discuss your plans to address them.