With the spring season slowly coming into sight — which likely includes visions of water-logged fields, harvesting last year’s crops, and a short planting window — it’s important not to forget the bigger risks lurking out there.
“One of the most common things to happen when we go into a late wet spring is to feel hurried and frustrated,” said Mike Langseth, North Dakota Soybean Council board member and Barney, N.D., farmer. “But that’s when accidents happen.”
With much of last season's corn and soybeans stored at high moisture levels, the risks of accidents will be particularly prominent in grain bins. Clumping and clogging are big reasons farmers enter a bin, and without the proper safety equipment in place, what seems like a quick and simple fix to release material can turn life-threatening quickly.
“In a matter of moments you’re engulfed past your knees,” said Rich Schock, a member of the Sheyenne Valley Technical Rescue Team. “By that time you can’t self-rescue anymore, and then you’re either going to end up riding it out, become entangled in the moving machinery, or just buried in the grain.”
Schock and his rescue team of specially trained firefighters from the North Dakota towns of Kindred, Horace and Leanord performed a grain bin safety demonstration during this year's Northern Corn and Soybean Expo at the Fargodome. Attendees watched as farmer Adam Redmann from St. Thomas, N.D., played the victim, wearing a safety harness and showing how a person can become trapped in a bin. Redmann was shocked how quickly he became trapped and likened the experience to being submerged in cement or quicksand — the more he struggled the tighter it wrapped around him.
The rescue team demonstrated how a cofferdam — a series of interconnecting sheets of curved metal that surrounds and protects the trapped person — along with ropes works to enclose the farmer and prevent crushing.
"Once you've crossed the threshold of entering the grain bin, you've obviously entered into a confined space, and then it just goes bad from there," Schock said. "It's very similar to an avalanche, I mean, the way the grain would break loose and trap you."
Starting the rescue team was a personal endeavor for these firefighters. They lost their fellow firefighter and friend Lyndon Lee of Kindred in a grain bin accident.
"Basically the person who got me to join the department, we lost him in his bin," Schock said.
Grain bins can be particularly dangerous, but other accidents can happen just as quickly and without warning.
“You don’t take those extra few minutes to go get a jack to put under something,” Langseth said. “Or you’re setting up to pull a tractor or another stuck implement, and you think ‘I should really go get that half-inch chain, but the three-eighths inch chain is here and I’ve got it’ and then the thing snaps and goes flying.”
Scenarios like these happen to everyone, but they should serve as reminders to take a deep breath and spend the extra minute to be safe. Farmers are miles from the nearest help and if they’re working alone, there isn’t anyone to call for help. So prevention is key.
“Take the time and be safe,” Langseth said. “An accident only takes a second.”
For more information on grain bin safety visit https://bit.ly/2OZPrx6.