All Archived Publications

Grain Handling and Storage Safety

Jill Webster Ph.D., Utah State University


Agricultural Health and Safety Fact Sheet AHS-02 Grain Handling and Storage Safety Jill Webster Ph.D., S. Christian Mariger, Graduate Assistant Agricultural Systems Technology and Education There are several hazards that should be considered when working with grain. Storage structures, handling equipment, and the grain itself have all caused serious injuries and deaths. Storage structures (bins, silos, and granaries), like all confined spaces, have significant hazards associated with them. Because they are enclosed, grain storage structures often accumulate a toxic atmosphere, or become oxygen depleted atmospheres. Common gasses such as methane and carbon dioxide are heaver than air and can accumulate over stored grain, displacing oxygen. Reduced oxygen levels cause a condition called anoxia. Anoxia affects judgment and causes rapid fatigue or nausea, and can overcome and kill a worker. Other more toxic “silo gases” that can form in grain storage structures include: nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen tetroxide, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide . These gases are poisonous to humans, and can cause symptoms ranging from mild respiratory irritation to death, depending on the concentration of the toxin and the level of exposure. Other respiratory hazards associated with grain storage structures are dusts, molds, fungal toxins (aflatoxin, mycotoxin, endotoxin, etc.), and residual fumigants. Exposure to all of these are both long and short term health risks. Sensitivity to these substances increases with repeated exposure, and their effects may be cumulative.