Working in and around grain bins exposes farmers and workers to serious hazards, including grain bin entrapment and engulfment. Despite more grain safety awareness, farmers continue to be at more risk due to more on-farm storage, farmers hanging onto their grain longer, and having larger unloading mechanisms that can entrap or engulf someone more quickly. 70% of engulfment happens on the farm. To combat these higher risk growers can utilize good grain storage practices to minimize the need to enter a bin.
It is important to acknowledge that the overall quality of stored grain always deteriorates. It is never as good as the day it is put in the bin. To maintain grain in good quality condition, it's important to avoid storage problems. Managing moisture, temperatures, molds, and fines are key to the length of time grain can be stored.
New Grain Storage App
Grain Aeration Storage
Free Grain Storage App. Managing moisture and temperatures are key throughout the storage process. There is a new and FREE smartphone app called Grain Aeration Storage available on the Google play store that can help you manage grain quality. It is a cooling-aeration predictor, it incorporates the weather forecast for suitability and hours of aeration based on a 10-day weather forecast and air-grain moisture relationships. It lets you know when to aerate and for how long to meet your criteria. Click on this YouTube link to see a demonstration of the grain aeration app. It is key to know when to aerate and when not to. This app helps take out the guesswork by telling you when and when not to aerate.
A recommended grain management practice after harvest is coring your bin. By coring your grain bin, you can remove 90% of the fines. The high density of the fines in the center core restricts airflow within the bin and reduces your ability to dry down and cool down the grain after harvest. Take out enough grain until the peak at the top is replaced by a slight depression where the grain level is just below the stored grain at the wall. The broken kernels and foreign material are susceptible to mold growth and insect infestations, removing them helps ensure better aeration to keep grain at the desired temperature.
Check Grain Often
Manage stored grain to prevent deterioration and possible economic loss. Check bins on a regular basis through fall and winter when temperatures are colder such as every other week. Consider creating a spreadsheet for all your bins to record your findings so you may track changes in moisture and temperature, and to avoid overlooking any bin with grain. Check the grain surface for any crusting, moist, sticky, or warm grain. If you need to enter a bin, always take the necessary precautions. Utilize a safety harness, lifeline, grab-rope, have a second person (attendant) outside the bin to monitor the entrant, and have appropriate respiratory protection. Follow confined space protocol.
Smell Test - A safer way to check for grain problems without entering the bin is to start the fans and smell the very first air that comes out of the grain. If fans are blowing up through the grain, stand at the manhole at the top of the bin. This is probably a two-person operation because of the time it takes to get to the top of the bin safely to get to the first air. You should also record the temperature of the air at that time because slight increases in temperature can indicate spoilage is starting to occur. You should be able to smell any molding grain.
|CO2 Monitor - Another safe way to check bins is with a Carbon Dioxide (CO2) monitor. Like the smell test, nobody has to enter the bin. The CO2 monitor can be used as an early indicator of spoilage activity which allows the operator to take corrective action before a real problem occurs. This too is a two-person operation because you want the monitor the first air coming from the bottom of the bin up through the grain. I like this method for safety as you are not working alone, can take your time to safely get to the top of the bin, and do not have to enter. Checking bins regularly, charting the results do take time and effort. However, the time spent checking bins is far less than the effort to correct a grain storage issue. Without records, it is difficult to tell whether elevated temperatures are caused by naturally occurring outside temperatures or by heating due to mold activity.||
Example of Carbon Dioxide Monitor
Correcting a Storage Problem
Don’t count on long-term storage with poor quality grain. Keep your best grain for long-term storage. When you find a storage problem, it is important to correct it as soon as possible. If grain shows signs of heating up and or molding, the first option is to aerate to cool the grain back down. If that cannot correct the problem, removing the problem grain is the next option. Addressing a grain problem when it’s small is better than having spoilage throughout the bin. It’s important to note that you cannot improve grain quality in the bin…however you can preserve it depending on conditions and time of year.
Checking Bins - Best Practices
By checking grain quality regularly, grain storage issues can be headed off, thus reducing the need to enter a bin. However, checking bins with regularity also poses some safety risks. Here are some safety best practices to consider when climbing bins to check grain quality.
Always keep both hands free while you climb (ladder or stairs). Use a tool belt, carry a backpack, or use a bucket on a rope to keep your hands free to climb safely. Anytime a worker climbs something, ladders, combines, tractors, sprayers, or anything structural such as grain bins, they should practice 3 points of contact.
Inspect Older Bins
Older bins were not built to the standards we have today. The maximum load on ladders is less, the rungs might be too close to the wall or there’s no roof ladder to get to the peak of the roof for example. Look over these older bins to identify safety flaws and consider structural modifications to make them safer. If they cannot be corrected at this time, make sure everyone is very aware of the safety flaws. Do not let anyone work alone around bins especially those that have a safety hazard.
I recently came across a company that specializes in grain bin fall protection. Good Day’s Work is not associated, however, their Bin Safe fall protection system is an option to consider to make climbing a bin more safe. It appears to be less costly than ladder cages or adding staircases. Also, check with your preferred grain bin supplier as well to see their options for fall protection.
Keep it slow and steady and don’t rush. Always face the ladder. Always keep the body inside the rails and avoid overreaching. Ensure the climbers are in the right state of mind and focused only on the task at hand. A loss of focus could result in a fall.
Weather can really affect bin conditions. Rain, condensation, snow, and ice can reduce friction and grip for hands and feet. In these conditions, try to wait until ladder rungs and stairs are dry. In cold or very hot conditions, use gloves that are slip-resistant and allow for good grip and dexterity. Be sure to take into account the wind speed.
Preserving grain quality has many benefits and a key benefit is grain bin safety. When we take action to preserve grain quality, we also reduce the need to enter a grain bin. Most engulfment and entrapments are due to out-condition grain.
By monitoring grain regularly, we have the opportunity to correct small problems before they become large. However, checking bins regularly also has some risks that need to be managed. Each year falls from grain bins or grain handling equipment account for serious injuries and deaths. By keeping best practices in mind, we can make the climb to the top of the bin safe.
Thank You for looking out for the safety of YOUR TEAM!
Good Day's Work Team