Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Field Crops Specialist, Josh Putman, shares information on the dangers associated with grain bin entry and how to avoid these dangers at grain handling facilities (photo provided by the Grain Handling Safety Coalition).

Grain Handling and Storage Safety

NEW YORK (February 5, 2021) – Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program (SWNYDLFC) shares safety precautions for farm workers when working near grain handling facilities and bins. There are many hazards associated with entering grain bins that farmers can manage and prevent injury or even death.

Grain facilities are locations that receive, handle, store, process, and ship bulk agricultural commodities like corn, soybeans, wheat, and oats. In New York, these facilities can be quite large and can handle large quantities of grain products. Additionally, many agricultural producers have their own grain facilities for on-farm storage. The grain handling industry is hazardous because workers can be exposed to serious and life-threatening dangers. These include suffocation from engulfment and entrapment in grain bins, falls from heights and crushing injuries, fires and explosions from grain dust accumulations, grain dust/gas inhalation or lack of oxygen in confined spaces, and amputations from grain handling equipment.

Suffocation is the number one cause of death in grain storage bins. Workers can become buried (engulfed) as they walk on moving grain or attempt to clear grain build-up on the inside of a bin. Moving grain acts like "quicksand" and can bury a worker in 2-3 seconds. Bridged grain and vertical piles of stored grain can also collapse unexpectedly, trapping a worker standing on or near it. The behavior and weight of the grain make it extremely difficult for a worker to get out of without assistance, as stated by OSHA (

What can be done to reduce these hazards? While working around a grain facility: turn off and lock all powered equipment associated with the bin, prohibit walking down the grain in the bin, provide and wear a body harness with a lifeline, ensure that there is an observer outside the bin, train all workers on the specific workplace hazards, and test the air before entering the bin to ensure there are no toxic gases or dust present. Additional tips to prevent dust explosions and fires can be found on the OSHA website. Those working with grain come across many hazards, so it is important to know the precautionary measures to avoid a life-threatening injury in this line of work. By following these tips, farms can keep employees safe. Additional information and resources can be found on the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website.

SWNYDLFC is a partnership between Cornell University and the CCE Associations of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Steuben counties. Their team includes Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Farm Business Management (716-640-0522); Joshua Putman, Field Crops (716-490-5572); Alycia Drwencke, Dairy Management (517-416-0386) and Amy Barkley, Livestock Management (716-640-0844). CCE is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities. For more information, visit

For more information about Cornell Cooperative Extension, contact your county’s Association Executive Director. Allegany County – Laura Hunsberger, or 585-268-7644. Cattaraugus County – Dick Rivers, or 716-699-2377. Chautauqua County – Emily Reynolds, or 716-664-9502. Erie County – Diane Held, or 716-652-5400. Steuben County – Tess McKinley,, or 607-664-2301. 

Last updated February 5, 2021