Safe Bin Entry

Safe Bin Entry

September 2023 edition - By Jeff Waggoner

Many might and have argued that there is never a “safe” time to enter a grain bin.  However, the fact of the matter is that there are times when entry may be necessary.  How can you go about doing this safely?

Well, I grew up on a small farm in rural Indiana.  On-farm storage has greatly increased since that time long ago.  How long ago that was will remain a mystery to the reader in this case, but one thing is for sure, farming is different.  One thing that I think remains relatively the lack of safety programs for farmers.  I’m not lobbying for more regulation.  But, when you hear of a bin entry accident, the statistics show that these occur far more frequently on the farm or even at a small elevator rather than at a large commercial facility.  The resources that a large grain handling facility has is much broader.  The liability of these large regional or even international companies has significantly higher and thus more emphasis is put on safety. 

The minimum standards for entering grain bins can be found on OSHA’s website here:  1910.272 - Grain Handling Facilities | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (  This guide states that it is okay to enter a grain bin without a lifeline setup (defined in the standard) if the bin is free from engulfment hazards or if such a setup is not feasible or if wearing such a device creates more of a hazard.

As a fumigator, I have entered 100s of grain bins under a variety of conditions.  It’s not entirely inconceivable that our internal safety requirements exceed those of our customers.  Sometimes customers require you to sit through hours of onsite training and sometimes they just point to the bin and grunt.  Somewhere in the middle would be great actually.

So, we have established a minimum bin entry guideline for our applicators.  I guess I failed to mention that we perform fumigation on commodities stored in grain bins, flat storages, ships, barges, containers, etc.  We require the following:

  • History of the commodity to eliminate those engulfment hazards.
  • Volume, condition, and type of commodity.
  • Sound structure, platform, ladder or elevator, etc. from which to work.
  • Confined Space Monitor that is within calibration limits.
  • Fall Protection including properly fitting harness, d-rings, rope grab, beam strap, and lifeline.
  • Dust or full-face gas mask with proper filter (P-100 Phosphine rated for up to 15ppm).
  • Intrinsically safe headlamp or similar flashlight.
  • Intrinsically safe 2-way radio for good communication.
  • Attendant for emergency purposes as required.

While entering a grain bin can be risky business, it also can be safer than the alternative.  Several years ago there was a study done on engulfments which showed them on the rise.  Any engulfment is a tragedy and almost all of them result in a fatality.  So, please understand that the importance of a thorough understanding of the hazards associated with entering a bin is critically important.  As a result of the study, many commercial elevators banned entry into grain bins creating a need to seal these bins from the exterior.  This reaction led to some sealing operations that proved to be less effective and more hazardous than entering the bins safely.  However, it did lead to better collaboration between us and site managers to ensure conditions were safe.  They became more aware of the potential hazards from bin entry and also keenly aware of the limitations of exterior sealing practices.

From my perspective, we have become much better about bin entry and safety.  We are much less likely to be in a potentially harmful environment than just a decade ago.  So, if you find yourself looking to hop in a grain bin, please take the time to protect yourself or others and don’t put anyone in a position where the unthinkable could happen. 

To learn more about commodity fumigation, please visit our website for more information and to contact a representative near you.