NOTE: In light of the recent Midwest floods, this is the first in a series of safe flood recovery stories to assist people in their recovery efforts.
Under normal conditions, grain and grain bins pose many safety hazards. Once damaged by floodwaters, safety risks around grain and storage bins are even higher.
In every reclamation situation, personal safety must be of the utmost concern. Assembling appropriate and effective personal protective equipment (PPE) should be the first step in all grain bin reclamation activities.
"Use of respirators (dust masks) and goggles or some form of eye protection is critical," said Aaron Yoder, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health. "An N95 mask or one that provides even greater protection is crucial for protecting you from mold and other bacteria that may be growing in wet grain or inside a compromised bin."
Choose a dust mask that is certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH-certified dust masks will have a NIOSH (N) rating on the mask and will have two straps to ensure a proper fit. When used properly, a mask labeled as N95 removes at least 95 percent of airborne particles. Dust masks are available in N99, and N100 efficiency levels. To determine if your mask is fitting correctly, watch this short instructional video -
Anyone with a breathing condition such as asthma should not enter a bin that has suspected mold damage, as the mold can significantly aggravate asthma symptoms. Individuals with health issues such as a compromised immune system (due to cancer treatment or immune suppressing medications) are very vulnerable to contracting serious illness related to mold. Children should never enter grain bins.
Long pants and waterproof boots also are effective PPE while working in post-flood recovery. Duct tape can be used to attach the top of the boot to your pants. This will reduce the chance of getting moisture and grain in your boots.
Other key PPE includes a long-sleeved shirt, protective gloves (rated to protect against sharp materials, chemicals, solvents, etc.). Kevlar gloves have a wide variety of industrial applications, since they are cut- and abrasion-resistant and provide protection against both heat and cold.
Additional information on respiratory protection and mold cleanup are available at: and 
Insurance companies have policies that should be followed prior to beginning any restoration work. Digital images are easily captured and stored. However, insurance professionals are likely to require documentation of specific issues/items.
"Some insurance companies may want to send a representative out before any work is done," Dr. Yoder said. "Typically, in disasters such as Nebraska and Iowa recently experienced, organizations such as FEMA hire extra help so they’re able to quickly assess damage."
There are many advantages for bringing in experts such as bin manufacturers and engineers to assess bin damage. Before anyone approaches a damaged bin, all electrical, gas and other types of utilities should be turned off.
"Many times, significant hazards at the bin site aren’t easily visible. These include washouts at the bin foundation or the presence of debris that was never around the site before," Dr. Yoder said. "Manufacturers and engineers who are familiar with bin equipment more readily identify equipment issues that can occur in situations such as a flood."
Some common damages to look for in the bin include compromised caulking seals, sheared bolts and elongated holes, misaligned doors, and any damage that occurred during a shift of the bin and/or the foundation.
"There are many busted bins across Nebraska that were damaged due to swelling grain," Dr. Yoder said. "Even if the bin hasn’t given way, look closely at bin fasteners and joints to detect potential for imminent collapse."
Inside a compromised bin, in addition to mold and spore inhalation, hazards include grain entrapment. Undetected loading, unloading and grain management equipment damage can also pose serious safety hazards.
"Grain bins must be perfectly round in order for stirring devices to perform," Dr. Yoder said. "If the bin or the stirring device is misshapen at all, it can cause many problems. If you bring an inspector to the bin, make sure they’re aware of all the equipment installed in the bin."
None of a compromised bin’s electrical or gas-powered equipment should be turned on before an inspector has checked it out. Utility companies often provide these kinds of services.
Grain in elevated bins may be protected from flood waters, but the bin foundation may be compromised.
"If the foundation has been damaged, there’s potential for the foundation to crack and for the bin to tip over," Dr. Yoder said. "Inspection done by your bin manufacturer or installer will help identify any hazards caused to your elevated bin by flood waters." 
When it comes to salvaging damaged grain, he said each bin site needs to be assessed carefully to determine whether grain can be reclaimed. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has provided guidance on flood damaged grain and hay
"Grain vacuums will be helpful to many bin owners," Dr. Yoder said. "All the safety practices related to working around flowing grain apply to those using a grain vacuum for reclamation or any other purpose."
Confined entry safety practices for grain bins include:

De-energize (turn off) and disconnect, lockout and tag or block off all mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic equipment, especially grain-moving equipment.

Workers cannot be inside the bin when grain is being removed.

Prohibit walking down grain or any other practices where a worker walks on grain to make it flow.

Prohibit entry onto or below a bridging condition, or where grain is built up on the side of the bin.

Provide each worker entering a bin from a level at or above stored grain with a body harness with a lifeline or boatswain’s chair. Ensure that the lifeline is positioned and of sufficient length to prevent a worker from sinking further than waist-deep in grain.

Provide works with rescue equipment, such as winch systems that are specifically suited for rescue from the bin.

Station an observer who is equipped to provide assistance and perform rescue operations outside the bin.

Test the air within a bin for oxygen content and the presence of hazardous gases before entry.

Safety practices specific to grain vacuums include:

Ensure that the vacuum has an emergency stop device.

Make grain vacuum operators aware of hazardous conditions caused by clumped or spoiled grain.

Enforce manufacturer’s guidelines for safe operation of the vacuum, including working at a shallow angle and frequently moving the vacuum intake. Avoid forming a cone depression in the grain. Rather, work to keep the grain surface level and work from the outside wall and move inward.

Grain vacuums may be used infrequently, making it critical to review operation procedures prior to using the vacuum. Thoroughly review the operating manual and check to make sure all safety shields and features are in place and operating. Check the vacuum to ensure it is in good repair.
Grain vacuums provide powerful suction and any attempt to troubleshoot the vacuum must be done after it’s turned off. Extra caution is required when using a grain vacuum to work with damaged grain.