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Jul 5, 2012

Silo Fatalities Prompt More Safety Awareness



Capital Press, Published July 5, 2012

Burley, Idaho -- Chris Larson routinely trains in the proper response to a grain silo engulfment. He has a new perspective, however, having played the role of the victim during a training session.

Larson, who works for General Mills in Rockford, was buried waist deep in wheat, pulled into the grain by the suction of a running auger. He was fitted with a rope and harness, and a specially designed metal grate covered the auger for the training.

Participants involved in the rescue assembled four plastic panels around him, forming a tube to relieve the immense pressure from the grain. They used a hose to suck enough wheat away that Larson could be safely removed.

"It makes you fell helpless real fast. You can't even move your toes in your shoes," Larson said.  Larson noted that General Mills now prohibits top entries into grain facilities.

A point emphasized repeatedly during the training was that following protocol for entering grain bins prevents engulfments:

* Use the buddy system when entering bins.

* Wear protective ropes and harnesses.

* Lock the auger and other equipment that could pose a safety hazard, tag it so others know not to use it and pocket the key.

"It was surprising to me to see how many people didn't know this kind of stuff," said Travis Bigek, with Lansing Trade Group in Bliss, adding questions raised during the training evidenced the importance of the event.

Sheldon Mayne, of Scoular Co. in Grace, believes small farms tend to be most at risk. He recalled a few months ago watching men at a neighboring farm facility making a top entry into a grain bin with no safety gear, which can be dangerous if a cavity in the grain collapses or someone else unwittingly turns on an auger.

About 65 grain industry officials and 32 firefighters and rescue personnel attended the training, hosted at Deseret Grain south of Burley by the Intermountain Chapter of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society.

The session was taught by George Lovell, a Detroit firefighter and COO of the Safety and Technical Rescue Association.

He said there were two engulfments, both resulting in fatalities, nationwide in 2001, but there's been a steady rise in accidents since then. The worst year was 2010, when 51 people were engulfed, resulting in 26 fatalities. The rate dropped in 2011 to 27 engulfments and eight fatalities.

Brett Mackert, commander with Fremont County Search and Rescue, responded to one of the 2010 grain bin fatalities.

"We'd never been trained. We hit that one completely blind," Mackert said, though he believes the victim had died before his team arrived.

Stephen Halverson, GEAPS chapter president and president and CEO of the Salt Lake City grain facility manufacturer Halverson Co., said within the past year and a half, his company has placed an emphasis on designing facilities with overhead pulleys and other safety features to prevent accidents and facilitate rescues.

Follow the link to Capital Press version of the article.