March 25, 2022

Confined Space: Grain Bin Engulfment and Entrapment

Reducing the Risk

In the Agriculture Industry, employees are constantly getting trapped within the grain bins and silos. Many of the employees never make it home. This is due to suffocation, which is the leading cause of death inside grain storage bins. Suffocation can occur in one of two ways.

  1. When an employee becomes engulfed within the grain. Moving grain acts like quicksand and can pull workers under within seconds
  2. The oxygen levels within the bins were low when they entered. Employees would be breathing in toxic air and suffocate from lack of oxygen.
Grain Bin Engulfment and Entrapment

There are many safety precautions that can be followed to reduce the risk of suffocation withing the bins and silos.

  • Be sure to turn off and lock out all power equipment associated with the bin. Working on moving grain is deadly, you could be buried within seconds.
  • Prohibit any practice where employees walk on the grain to make it flow.
  • All employees should be provided with and actively wearing a body harness tethered to a lifeline when working in a bin. An “observer” should be handling the lifeline on the outside of the bin. Their only task is to track the person working on the inside.
  • Prohibit workers from entering bins under any condition where a build-up of grain could fall and engulf them.
  • All employees should be trained for specific hazardous work operations they are to perform upon entrance of a bin.
  • The air within a bin must be tested before anyone enters to determine whether there is sufficient oxygen. If there is not, vent the bin to ensure all combustible and toxic gas levels are reduced to non-hazardous and that sufficient oxygen levels are maintained.
  • A permit must be issued each time an employee enters the bin, ensuring that the precautions listed above have been implemented.

Small Farming Operations

Certain farming operations have been exempting from authoritative safety regulations. Meaning they aren’t in much danger is they choose to not use the precautions listed above.

However the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers has been partnered with the Grain Elevator & Processing Society, in hopes of providing a consensual standard for grain bin entry to prevent injuries and death from entrapments. This effort has mainly been focused on bin manufacturers, and in assisting them in designing bin with tool and safety equipment to assist anyone who enter the bin. Many manufacturers have put in the effort to follow suit. For example, SCAFCO Grain Systems Company offer grain entrapment prevention kits for almost every bin they sell.

For more safety information on this topic, you can visit our Hard Hat Training Series course on Confined Spaces in Agriculture. This course goes into more detailed about entrapment along with other hazards. Good luck out there and stay safe!