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A new letter from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration indicates the department will update its guidance on enforcement of grain bin safety, particularly as it relates to small farms. OSHA argued a run-up in grain engulfments in 2010 led to higher safety inspections, but will now issue new guidance after consultation with USDA and farm groups.

At the Agribusiness Association of Iowa’s 2014 Showcase and Conference on Wednesday, Professional Rescue Innovations instructor Don Ashenfelter demonstrates just how quickly grain engulfments can happen.

“A person can be completely submerged in 22 seconds. Twenty-two seconds with a ten-inch auger, they’re completely buried.” He says they don’t have time to react, and once they’re buried they need a rescue team.

If a person is completely buried they’ll open up holes in the side of the grain bin to get the trapped person out. If they are only partially buried, rescuers go about it a different way, “You actually place a tube around them and push it down into the grain. It actually isolates that grain around them so we can remove that grain.

Josh Dittmer volunteered to be sunk down into the grain as part of the demonstration. He explains how it happened, “I stood in the grain and they simulated emptying the bin by auguring out of the bottom. And I sank to where I couldn’t move any more, and then they facilitated a rescue attempt and got me out of the corn.”

Dittmer says even though it is a controlled environment, it’s still a little nerve wracking to be trapped in the grain, “I couldn’t move anywhere below my waist.”

Ashenfelter says it’s important for farmers to be aware of the dangers of grain bins especially this year, “With the crops going in last fall a little bit wetter, I see potentially you’re going to have more issues in the Spring and in the Summer when they start cleaning out grain bins.”

He says pretty much all grain accidents can be avoided, “It’s a fact that somebody takes a five minute short cut, or they go in to do one thing really quick and nobody’s there to shut things off, and that’s when something happens.”

Ashenfelter says if you are sinking in grain the best course of action is to cover your face and create a cavity for your lungs to expand. He says there is enough space in between corn for air to come through and there are cases where farmers survive hours buried in grain.