Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the country. Getting trapped in a grain bin is one of the reasons.

In our Farm Safety Week report, Local 4 News takes a closer look at the hidden dangers of farming.

Grain bins are a staple to American agriculture. Giving farmers the ability to store their crops throughout the year- allows for better marketing decisions. Producers can choose when to sell and at what price.

But inside of a grain bin is one of the most dangerous places for farmers.

As grain is unloaded out of the center of the bin, it forms a cone around the walls. One scoop can cause an avalanche effect and have you trapped in seconds. We spoke with Lon Warnecke, Safety and Compliance Director for River Valley Co-Op to learn more.

“Typically, the grain is up two to three — maybe four — rings up on the side wall and you’re actually below the top part of the grain and every time you walk in there it can slide like quicksand and encompass your body where you can’t get out,” Warnecke said.

Hazards such as collapsing grain or being wrapped up and entangled in an auger are incredibly unique to agriculture. This makes training for these emergency situations that much more difficult for rescue personnel.

“So, we’re very fortunate that the local co-op, River Valley Co-Op, partnered with all the fire deparepartments in their service area and provided grain bin rescue tubes where they have locations,’ Eldridge Fire Chief Keith Schneckloth said. “The grain bin rescue tube has been ideal for us as well as I’ll reach out to Northeast Iowa Community College and they have a grain bin rescue simulator they can bring right to the fire department and through the Iowa Fire Service Training Bureau it’s free of charge.
These valuable training resources demonstate what it takes to get someone out of a grain bin rescue. But prevention is key.”

“The best thing to do is to stay out of the grain bin every time the bin is energized, or there is power to the sweep or the unload auger,” Warnecke said. “Just don’t go in the bin. Shut off everything, lock it out, which means de-energize it, which means put a padlock on it so nobody turns on a switch. Then go in, do your work and make sure you have that person on the side watching you that can summon help and that is the safest way to do that.”

“The biggest problem we run into with grain entrapments and grain engulfments is getting the grain away from the bin,” Schneckloth said. “Something we can’t bring with us to the scene is a grain vac or semis to get the grain away, and part of our training is if we have someone that is engulfed, we need to drain that grain bin out. And if we cut holes in the sides of the bin that grain only flows so far before we need to move it. So we need to rely on our local municipalities, our grain elevators and other farmers to hopefully bring some equipment in that can move that grain away from the bins so we can get to that entrapped person.”

In 2021 there were 29 reported grain entrapment cases, with Illinois ranking the highest and Iowa right behind. But this number does not reflect the 2/3 of storage capacity on farm locations that are exempt from reporting to OSHA.