How Prepared Are You for a Potential Grain Engulfment?

Lisa Pfeifer – OSU Ag Safety and Health Education Coordinator

Preparedness is a concept with which we are all familiar. We learn where and how to exit a building in the event of a fire in grade school and that learning continues to build from there. You may note an exit sign in a building you enter, subconsciously marking a route out in the event of an emergency. You may assess alternative routes of vehicular travel when a roadway becomes flooded along your path. You may look for an elevator when you take your elderly mother to visit her doctor because you know stairs have become difficult for her traverse. You may look for a map kiosk at the trailhead as you set out on a hike at the nature preserve. All of those actions, thoughts, and assessment are a part of preparedness, regardless of the depth of that specific planning. Think about and examine those split-second brain processes for a moment, from there reflect on your daily work and movement about the farm. What occurs to you? Are you thinking – no exit signs exist, no directional or roadway markers exist, there is not a property or building map to be found? Will you recognize the lack of wayfinding on the farm the next time you leave the back door of your house to head for the farmyard?

Take this framework a step further and think about this in regard to working in and around grain on the farm. How will someone rescue you in that “what if” grain emergency. Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) are an integral piece of pre-planning for unexpected events at any time or for any situation, but in grain related incidents they can be a vital tool. EAPs or preparedness documents assist to save time for first responders when it is crucial and may ultimately be life-saving for victim or rescuer in certain incidents.

Agriculture is no longer a piece of the common fabric of the lives of many of those performing emergency rescue today. A first responder that arrives to a farm in a grain rescue situation may not be familiar with many of the pieces of equipment involved. Family members that have never operated the equipment might not have any idea where to begin to shut everything down.

Keeping employees and family abreast of the operating equipment and arming them with the resources to move quickly in the event of an emergency is a process that should not be overlooked. Knowledge is power.

Take measures to educate not only farm employees and family member, but additionally first responders that would be called upon in the event of an emergency on your property.

The farm operator is often familiar with all of the processes involved in grain storage and handling at their individual operation, but is there anyone else who is aware of every step, electrical source, or hazard at your facility?

Review your procedures for working in and around grain and think about how you can educate family members and employees of all of the hazards that may exist in the process from beginning to end. Establish a protocol of safety specific to grain handling for your operation and clearly communicate that to anyone that could be of assistance in the event of an emergency.

Below you will find a list of questions to consider that should help you assess the preparedness level of your own farm and employees and get you started in establishing an EAP for grain handling and storage at your own operation. Please ask yourself:

  • Is the farm property easy to navigate and understand or is a map needed for anyone that would be called to the grain storage site in the event of an emergency? Think about how a neighbor, an employee, your spouse, your child, and a first responder could get to you if you were suddenly engulfed in grain.
  • Do you always have a cell phone with you? Who would you call if you were stuck waist deep in grain and could not move? Would that person know what to do and how to do it?
  • Is there any overhead wiring that would present a hazard for rescue vehicles in the event that first responders are called to respond to an emergency at your farm property? If there is, how could you plan accordingly to eliminate danger to the victim engulfed inside the bin or responders trying to gain access to assist in the rescue?
  • Do you have a procedure for de-energizing equipment for all mechanical, electrical, pneumatic, and hydraulic components that operate inside or around grain storage confinement spaces? What steps can you take to ensure that potential electrical contact is eliminated and draw-off or sweep augers do not start with anyone inside the grain storage structure? Do you lock out and tag equipment whenever you enter? Would a neighbor, an employee, your spouse, your child, or a first responder know how to de-energize all equipment? Is there a way you can ensure they do have that knowledge?
  • Do you have an entry process for entering bins on your farm? Do you use a tie-off system? Do you ensure no one ever works in grain alone? Do you have a spotter when you enter a bin and does that person know how to get help and shutdown all equipment?
  • Do you have schematics of your bin storage system? Would those assist rescuers in the event of an emergency? Where are those documents stored? Who else knows where to find such documents?
  • Where is the nearest rescue tube located? Would that fire department be notified in the event of an emergency at your grain storage location? Have the first responders of the responding department been trained in grain rescue? Does anyone on the responding team know your property first hand?

Take some preparedness steps today. Print a google map of your farm or draw one by hand, labeling all equipment involved in grain handling. Buy a lock to lockout power sources for grain handling equipment. Purchase a harness and tie off system for your bin. Check with local emergency rescue teams to find out what rescue jurisdiction your property falls within and where the nearest grain rescue tube is located.  Invite the responding department for a site visit of your property and allow them to practice their rescue procedures at your facility. Any pre-incident planning can help cut response time in the event of an emergency. Put a plan in place and communicate it. Stay safe.

For more information about OSU Ag Safety, visit or contact Lisa Pfeifer, OSU Agricultural Safety & Health, at or 614-292-9455.