C magazine

Is your bin safe?

"The first signs of bin failure aren’t always glaringly obvious, but if you look closely, the signs are there.” — Jim Gales

Sep 08, 2020
Grain Bin Entry Safety Tips

Use extreme caution every time you enter a grain bin. The Purdue University Agricultural Safety and Health Program reports 39 people died in confined space incidents in 2019, significantly more than in the previous year. More than half (57 percent) of those cases were grain entrapments.

According to Jerry Wolf, CHS regional safety specialist, you should always have a plan before you enter a grain bin

  • Buddy up. Never enter a grain bin without at least one person stationed outside the bin and ready to call for help.
  • Check inside air condition before you enter. Your local co-op may have an air monitor you can use. If you have no air monitor, open the roof vents and side door to clear the air before entering.
  • Before entering, inspect the interior for grain stuck to the wall or bridged, which can fall and engulf you.
  • Use safety equipment to enter the bin, including a ladder, safety harness and lights.
  • If you will enter through the top of a bin, wear equipment to prevent falling.
  • Never enter a bin when equipment is running. Shut off and lock out equipment before entering.
  • Never walk on grain that is deep enough to engulf you. If the remaining grain is deeper than knee-high, use a safety harness and a lifeline secured on the outside of the bin.
  • Never use an open flame inside a grain bin.

Your bins are workhorses, doing the job of protecting harvested crops year after year. But are you giving them the attention they need to make sure they can continue acting as guardians of grain?

“Many fatalities in bins are the result of poor decisions,” Wolf says. “Just because it is the way you have always done it doesn’t mean it is safe. Habits are hard to change, but you need to be safe.”Your bins are workhorses, doing the job of protecting harvested crops year after year. But are you giving them the attention they need to make sure they can continue acting as guardians of grain?

Your bins are workhorses, doing the job of protecting harvested crops year after year. But are you giving them the attention they need to make sure they can continue acting as guardians of grain?

Much of the grain bin storage on U.S. farms was put up 30 or 40 years ago. Age alone isn’t evidence that a bin might be nearing the end of its useful life; much depends on the type and quality of the original construction. Preharvest is a great time to check bins before you have a failure that hurts you financially or physically.

Jim Gales has seen it all over the past 10 years as a construction department manager for CHS. He works with CHS locations and local cooperatives on projects ranging from facility updates to new construction. After spending time in and around hundreds of grain bins, he says the first signs of bin failure aren’t always glaringly obvious, but if you look closely, the signs are there.

The first step, says Gales, is to conduct regular visual inspections — an important and often overlooked part of any farm’s operation plan. Pausing for a close inspection will only take a few minutes, but can determine if your bins are structurally sound. 

A thorough inspection includes evaluating the inside of the bin. If you need to enter a grain bin for any reason, always make sure the bin is empty and post an observer outside the bin before you enter it. See the sidebar below for safe entry tips.

Once safely inside the bin, look for any of the same signs you would search for on the outside of the bin. If your bin has inside stiffeners (steel braces on the side walls), examine them for collapsing or kinking.  

In most cases, if issues are caught early, repairs can be made and a bin can stay in use, says Gales. He suggests contacting the bin manufacturer or a qualified grain bin representative and asking them to inspect your bin to determine what repairs might be needed.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Gales says. “Most representatives would be happy to look at your bins, even if they didn’t build them.”

And don’t put it off because you are worried about an expensive repair. Bin failures do happen and they can be deadly.

“Is saving a few thousand dollars worth risking someone’s life?” Gales asks. 




Key Indicators of Potential Bin Failure


Rusted or Cracked Bin Seals
Check the bin seal where it meets the concrete foundation. Do you see rust or cracked caulking where you sealed a leak? Compromised caulking can come loose, allowing moisture to seep in. Moisture causes rust and creates a vicious cycle in cold climates as it freezes and thaws, since the contraction and expansion creates bigger problems.


Missing or failing bolts
Look up about 15 feet above the ground at the bin wall and check splices on the steel sheeting. Then check all seams. If bolts are missing or sheets have pulled away from the bolts, something has occurred inside the bin that has caused them to shear off from the inside or rust has built up and bolts have loosened or popped off.


Gaps or cracks in the foundation
These indicate the presence of structural issues that are affecting the foundation. Look closer and you’ll probably find other issues.


Collapsing corrugated metal
The bottom three or four rows of corrugation are where most of the stress occurs on a bin. If you notice the corrugation is collapsing or appears to be scrunching closer together, excessive stress is occurring and you could be looking at a future bin failure.


Steel sheets beginning to rip or pull apart at the seams
Separating or ripped sheets indicate that rust has built up and is creating weak spots in the bin structure.


Side wall deflection
A bowed side wall means there is a bigger issue lurking.


Rust of gaps in around doors, truck side draws or other openings 
Gaps let in moisture. Rust indicates the presence of moisture. Moisture inside a grain bin is bad news, since it hurts grain quality and can lead to inside damage that creates structural weakness.


LEARN MORE: Find safety resources from the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center at umash.umn.edu.

Check out the full C magazine with this article and more.