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University of Iowa Press Release

Nov. 1, 2004

Farmers Alerted To Take Precautions When Vacuuming Corn From Bins

Following the recent deaths of two Iowa farmers who reportedly suffocated in separate grain bin accidents, agricultural safety experts at the University of Iowa are urging farmers to take extra precautions while vacuuming grain this harvest season.

According to Risto Rautiainen, Ph.D., UI assistant professor of occupational and environmental health and deputy director with the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, the fatalities occurred near Cedar Rapids and Le Mars about a week apart while the farmers were vacuuming grain from storage bins.

"More information is needed on these recent incidents, but the mention of a grain vacuum in use was reminiscent of a death we investigated in 1998," Rautiainen said. "We want to stress that farmers should take precautions to minimize the risks of becoming entrapped by grain inside a bin."

In the 1998 incident, a 64-year-old farmer and owner of a grain vacuuming service suffocated under several feet of grain while vacuuming corn from a bin. Suffocation can occur when corn lodged at the sides of a bin or in a spoiled column in the middle collapses and covers the farmer.

Grain vacuum operators can also lose control of the intake nozzle, theoretically creating a two-cubic-foot hole underfoot every second. Meanwhile, the operator, pulling upward on the nozzle, is forced downward into the cavity where the grain used to be. Such incidents happen very quickly, Rautiainen said, adding that some grain vacuums can move 6,000 bushels an hour.

Here are some precautions to follow when using grain vacuums inside bins:

- Follow safety precautions in equipment operator manuals and know the recommended emergency procedures.

- Station an observer nearby who can communicate with both the person in the bin and another individual to shut down operating equipment in an emergency. To avoid anyone else becoming entrapped in the grain, the bin should not be entered until it is safe to do so.

- Grain vacuum operators, as well as farmers using other methods to empty grain bins, should be very cautious when working with grain that won't flow, sticks together or has spoiled.

- Grain vacuum operators should move the vacuum intake frequently to avoid formation of a cone depression, keeping the grain surface level, working from the outside wall and moving inward, thereby reducing the risk of engulfment.

These safety precautions are offered as a collaborative effort by the UI College of Public Health Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, Iowa's Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, the Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center and the Iowa Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program.

For more information about safe grain handling and agricultural practices, contact Risto Rautiainen at 319-335-9647 or 319-530-3483. Additional resources on grain handling, harvesting and storage are available from the National Agricultural Safety Database at

STORY SOURCE:  University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

CONTACTS: Debra Venzke, 319-335-9647,; Program: Risto Rautiainen, 319-335-9647 (office), 319-530-3483 (cell),