Accident focuses spotlight on grain bin safety
(First Appeared in the April 6 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)
By Ray Bowman
Warren County sheriff’s deputies attempted to dig Douglas Groce out of a grain bin on March 23, 2017. Unfortunately, attempts to rescue Groce after his fall into the bin were unsuccessful and the 56-year-old farmer died on the scene.
This was the first death associated with grain bin entrapment since December of 2015 when a Taylor County man died while loading grain from a bin into a truck. The man entered the steel grain bin to unclog a blockage, when the grain collapsed.
A report released in March from the Agricultural Safety and Health Program at Purdue University states that no fewer than 60 fatal and non-fatal cases were documented nationally in 2016 inside agricultural confined spaces, including grain storage and handling facilities. Twenty-nine (48%) of those cases were directly related to grain entrapments.
The 29 grain entrapment cases documented in 2016 represented a 21% increase from 2015 when 24 were recorded, according to the Purdue research.
Since 2006, Kentucky has experienced 13 reported grain entrapments. There were possibly others that were not reported.
Dale Dobson, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Home Safety Program administrator, is working with the Southeast Center for Ag Health & Injury prevention at the University of Kentucky to prepare rescue workers to respond to grain storage accidents.
One of the main tools available for use in these situations is the grain tube. The plastic or aluminum tubes surround the victim, halting the inward flow of grain and blocking any additional pressure that may be created from rescuers. It is then possible to start removing the grain around the victim, inside the tube.
“We have found about eight of these tubes on the market,” says Dobson. “The important thing is not which of these products you have, it’s knowing how to properly use it, rapidly and efficiently.”
Dobson says there is limited procedural information available about the use of these products, and that is what he hopes to see developed through the concerted efforts of safety organizations, first responders and farmers.
Dobson says he’s hoping these efforts will lead to an operations manual that will not be brand-specific, but will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each product.
“I think the goal is to say ‘this one is best used in these circumstances, under these conditions,’” said the University of Kentucky’s Dr. Joan Mazur. Some rescue units may choose to have two or more units, depending on the situations they encounter.
Grain bin size varies from location to location. “We have a half-million bushel bin in Larue County, then there are a lot of 10-thousand bushel bins, too,” Dobson observed. Each size has its own specific set of challenges in an emergency. Some of those locations might sound surprising.
“Louisville Fire and Rescue is scheduling a grain rescue training program,” Dobson said. “As these micro-breweries are popping up, thousand-bushel grain bins are popping up with them. I never thought about that until Louisville called me.”
The Saturday following the most recent grain bin accident, Dobson traveled to Meade County to participate in a Grain Bin Safety course, sponsored in part by Meade County Farm Bureau. “We had over 40 firefighters from seven different fire departments show up to train with the farmers,” he remarked. “We were on a real grain farm, in real grain bins, in real scenarios. The rescuers got to train, hands-on, on a farm because farmers hosted it.”
Dobson hopes to see more and more local responders equipped and trained to react to grain bin entrapments.
“My ultimate goal is to keep the farmers from getting caught to start with,” Dobson explained. “But if something happens in Meade County, I’m very confident that the fire and rescue personnel will know how to approach a bin and what to do because they’ve been there and trained.”