COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Moldy corn grain is not only harmful to livestock, but it can be unhealthy for farmers as well. As a result, farmers should take extra safety precautions as they manage their stored corn this winter.

Dee Jepsen, an Ohio State University Extension state safety leader for the Agricultural Safety and Health program, said that farmers should wear a respirator when dealing with potentially moldy grain to avoid breathing in any toxins.

"They should be wearing a dust mask to block the dust from grain accumulating in their respiratory tract," said Jepsen. "But the mask won't filter out toxins. Wearing a respirator will filter out molds and spores that they might be inhaling."

Jepsen said that a farmer can become ill from mold and grain dust inhalation, experiencing long-term flu-like symptoms commonly referred to as farmer's lung.

"Sometimes the combine doesn't do a good job of cleaning out the plant matter from the grain – weeds, stems, hulls – and any favorable environmental conditions will cause that plant material to sprout and become moldy," said Jepsen. "Any time that grain is not at optimum condition, there could be potential for mold development. Farmers need to protect themselves from that."

Wearing a respirator or at least a dusk maks is just one of the many steps farmers need to take when it comes to on-farm safety, especially grain bin safety. Jepsen said that grain bin entrapments are at their highest during the winter months when farmers are moving harvested grain and preparing for spring planting.

"Right now that's all they are doing," said Jepsen. "The movement of grain from truck to the bin or from one bin to another should be a fluid motion, but sometimes it requires a farmer's intervention. This is especially true when grain is crusted or lodged in the bin."

Farmers should never enter a confined space, such as a full or partially full grain bin, said Jepsen.

But if it's unavoidable, only those who have been properly trained should enter a grain bin. Such training includes wearing a harness and knowing where to safely tie off the harness.

"Never enter a confined space without proper procedures in place," said Jepsen. "That's when injuries and deaths occur."

Jepsen offers advice on the proper procedures to follow for grain bin safety:

  • Never enter a grain bin alone. A farmer should always be monitored by one other person located at the top of the bin entry. A second person should be on the ground level.
  • Shut off and lock out all power to the grain bin before entering. This will prevent incidental engulfment and entanglement with moving equipment.
  • When the power is off, the unloading auger is off. The auger should never be turned on when trying to dislodge grain. This will cause someone to be pulled under as the grain unloads.
  • Take your time. Handling and moving grain can be a tedious task, especially when the grain is out of condition. Dislodging grain is physically taxing and fatigue can set in quickly, increasing changes of making a mistake.

"It could take you days to break up that grain if you follow safety precautions," said Jepsen. "Farmers are ready to take short cuts to get it done more quickly, but it's not always the safest way."

More information on grain bin safety can be found at ohioline.osu.edu/atts/modules.html.

SOURCE: Ohio State.