Seconds until death: Grain bin suffocations persist

The tragedy repeatedly makes news headlines: Men entrapped in grain storage bins with only seconds to react before they are engulfed and suffocated.

Why and how it happens
Scenario 1: A worker enters the top of a grain bin, and the auger begins running to unload the grain. Within five seconds, the worker becomes trapped. The flowing grain behaves like quick sand, pulling the worker down. After 22 seconds, he is completely covered.

Scenario 2: Unbeknownst to him, a worker stands on a “bridge” formed by clumped grain due to moisture or mold. Beneath the firm layer, there’s a pocket of space and, when it collapses, the worker becomes buried. When unloading begins, the worker is instantly trapped.

Scenario 3: A worker is standing on the floor attempting to dislodge grain that’s accumulated on the side of the bin. The pile collapses onto the worker.

Scenario 4: Without warning, a bin can develop hazardous atmosphere or a lack of oxygen.

How it’s prevented
Considering it’s one of the top causes of farm deaths, it’s hard to believe grain storage bin suffocation is 100% preventable. But it is, as long as employers:

• Turn off and disconnect, lockout and tag, or block off all mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic equipment
  that presents a danger. Grain must not be emptied or moved into or out of the bin while workers are inside.

• Do not allow walking down 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 workers entering a bin from a level at or above stored grain, or walking or standing on stored grain with a body
  harness connected to a lifeline or boatswain’s chair. The lifeline should be long enough to prevent a worker from sinking
  more than waist-deep in grain.

• Give workers rescue equipment specifically for rescue from the bin.

• Station an observer who is equipped to provide assistance and perform a rescue outside the bin. Make sure the
  observer and workers who enter the bin maintain communications.

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

• Obtain a permit each time a worker enters a bin. The exception is if the employer will be present during the entire
  operation. The permit must certify that before workers enter the bin, they met the precautions above.

Information from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupation Safety and Health Administration.

Trim your trees for a safe home and a beautiful yard

The trees in your yard can harm your property if they’re not maintained. They’re especially prone to damage when severe weather brings wind and hail that can knock down branches.

Here’s what you can do to protect your home and your trees:

Be proactive to prevent damage

Inspect your trees several times a year. If necessary, take the following actions to limit hazards:

•  Trim any large branches that could fall on your house.

•  Find and remove any broken or dead branches that are stuck
   in trees.

•  Contact a local arborist who can check for diseases and
   recommend other preventive steps to take.

Get tree removal help from your insurance company

You may have some protection in your homeowners insurance policy if a tree falls on your premises due to wind, ice, hail, or snow.

For example, if a storm causes a tree to fall and damage your house, a SECURA policy typically will pay to have it removed, up to $500 per tree and a total of $1,000. Your deductible would apply in this case. You’re also covered if the fallen tree lands on your driveway and blocks a vehicle from entering or leaving.

Similar provisions would apply to a neighbor’s tree that falls on your property due to a covered cause of loss.

Plus, homeowners policies often include coverage to help you remove other shrubs or plants that are damaged by a storm. Check your policy and talk to your insurance agent to see if you have this coverage.

Get more tree maintenance information from Tree City USA.

Promote safe driving: Sign a parent-teen driving agreement

Inexperience is one of the main factors in accidents caused by teens — and those accidents can be fatal. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens in the U.S.

You should establish guidelines for your new teen driver to help them gain experience while practicing safe driving habits.

One way to do this is with a parent-teen driving agreement. You can find samples online, or write your own. Either way, the agreement should cover the following guidelines.

Your teen driver should:

•  Maintain good grades or a certain GPA to keep their driving privileges.
•  Drive with a limited number of passengers in the car. Check the graduated drivers license laws in your state.
   Many mandate that new drivers can only carry one non-family passenger for the first nine months
   with a probationary license.

•  Never text or use a cell phone while driving.
•  Never consume alcohol or drugs, especially prior to driving a vehicle.
•  Always wear a seat belt, and require that their passengers do the same.
•  Agree on what time they will be home. Again, check your state laws for curfew restrictions for new drivers.

The agreement also should include the consequences (such as loss of driving privileges) if your teen doesn’t follow the guidelines, or if they receive certain traffic violations, like speeding tickets or accidents.

Sign the document with your teen and keep it someplace visible as a reminder of their responsibilities as a driver.

If you’re a SECURA policyholder, you can download our parent-teen driving agreement via Prevention ConnectionSM on

Utility vehicles for yard work: what’s insured

Yard work can be a back-breaking job. To lighten the load, you could rent a utility vehicle. But before you do, understand the risks – and insurance implications – of doing so.

Lower the risk of injuries

Make sure you know how to operate the machinery. If you’re new to the equipment, ask for help from the rental company. If, after some training, you still don’t feel comfortable with the utility vehicle, do not rent it. You don’t need an injury.

You also should have the proper attire for the job. That might include gloves, safety glasses, ear protection, and steel-toe work boots.

Ask about insurance
The company renting you the vehicle might offer you some type of property insurance. Ask about their coverage and run it by your insurance agent to see whether it’s worth purchasing.

Know what your policy covers
Most home insurance policies offer liability and property insurance protection, but always check your policy to be sure. Here’s what SECURA’s MILE-STONE policy covers:

You have liability coverage if you’re using a utility vehicle at your home or cottage that we insure, and not for business purposes. If you do take the vehicle somewhere other than your insured location, you will not have liability protection.

Again, you’re covered for property damage if you’re using the motorized land machinery at your insured location, and the work isn’t business related.

If you purchase coverage from the company renting machinery to you, your home insurance policy would only kick in after the rental agency’s insurance.