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How grain bin safety training can save lives

May 2024

by Nicole Zima, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation

In Virginia’s heaviest grain-producing regions, people often tell stories of farmers who have had close calls while working in or around grain bins.

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board member Leigh Pemberton remembers a near-tragic grain entrapment in Hanover County about 20 years ago.

“A farmer went down into a grain tank of corn,” he recalls. “He was a good-sized man, and they had a hard time getting him out. They had ropes around him, and it was really a struggle. I think they even had to unload part of the tank, but eventually they did get him out.”

A Purdue University report on agricultural confined space-related injury and fatality cases in 2022 found 42 reported grain-related entrapments, representing a 44.8% increase over 2021 — the highest number of entrapments in over a decade. Fortunately, only 36% of the cases involved fatalities, dipping lower than the five-year average.


The Great Wall of Rescue can be placed around an entrapped worker, while responders use a drill-powered auger to remove the surrounding grain. (Photo Courtesy Virginia Farm Bureau Federation)

Henrico Technical Rescue Team personnel conduct training with a grain bin extrication apparatus provided by VFBF’s Farm Safety Advisory Committee.

Coordination with farm operators allows responders to better understand potential hazards when assisting with an on-farm emergency. Henrico County’s specialty unit is trained for unusual rescue situations like extractions or confined space incidents.

Former Lt. Charles Smith of Henrico Firehouse 1 leads a training series at Engel Family Farms in Hanover. He explains to unit trainees that not all farmers in the region have access to modern, safe equipment like they have at Engel.

Some farms, particularly smaller-scale ones, “don’t have the updated equipment with safety features,” Smith says.

Safety educators from RescueTechs LLC in Pennsylvania often demonstrate The Great Wall of Rescue for farmers. The device’s panels can be interlocked around an entrapped worker, and responders can use a drill-powered auger to remove the surrounding grain for safe extrication.

Matt Brett, assistant chief at City of Allentown EMS, and co-instructor Patrick Deegan lead the demonstration using a large tub of grain in an exhibition hall. Brett steps into the grain to show how quickly his leg gets immersed.

“Some counties have purchased these devices, and we’re getting the word out on why it’s important to have these and be trained on how to use them,” Brett explains.

Learn more about Farm Bureau safety resources at vafb.com/safety.