Grain is like quicksand

mage: Agriculture and Rural Development, Government of Alberta

mage: Agriculture and Rural Development, Government of Alberta

I read a tragic story recently about two teens who died at work in Illinois while trying to get corn flowing in a grain bin. “The kernels suddenly assumed the nature of quicksand” and the boys were buried in seconds, reads the post in

Twenty-five people died in granary accidents in 2010 and five of them were under 16, the post says, quoting Purdue University’s 2010 Summary of Grain Entrapments in the United States. It says there were 51 grain immersion accidents in the US in 2010, up from 38 in 2009.

I followed up with Nicole Hornett, farm safety coordinator with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, and learned that she does a grain safety education program for kids and young workers.

“Once a person is completely under the surface of the grain, ‘drowning’ happens quickly, as the grain and grain dust quickly enter the nose and mouth, making it impossible to breathe,” Nicole said, via email. “The further someone is buried into the grain, the harder it is to pull them back out, countering the force, friction and the additional weight of the grain.”

Grain tug-of-war

Nicole does a demo that simulates what happens when someone is buried in grain. She gets a garbage bin and places a plywood disk at the bottom. A rope runs through the middle of the disk and out the top of the bin. She fills the bin with grain and lets people see how hard it is to pull the disk out of the grain.

“The demo shows how quickly someone can be entrapped in grain – and then how much extra force the grain exerts on the body. It’s not a simple matter of just pulling someone back out,” Nicole wrote.

“Even if someone was firmly holding onto a rope when they became entrapped in the grain, the typical force is around four times the person’s body weight. People are not strong enough to pull themselves out, i.e. a 200-pound man would need to be able to lift 800 pounds.”

For more info on working safely around grain, check out:

<em”>Dangers of Engulfment and Suffocation in Grain Bins (a hazard alert released Aug. 11, 2011) and Grain handling from OSHA

Suffocation Hazards in Grain Bins from the University of Arkansas

Grain Bin Safety from University of Illinois Extension


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