Farm Safety & Health Week is Sept. 20-26

COLUMBIA, Mo. – A University of Missouri pipe fitter’s prototype of a grain bin safety net is the latest collaborative effort by MU faculty, staff and students to make farming safer.

A television documentary on grain bin deaths inspired Kenneth Bassett, a 41-year employee of MU, to make The Spider. The web-like net is suspended over the top of grain in a storage bin. The net prevents farmers from falling into bridged grain and becoming entrapped.

Bassett learned that more than 70 percent of grain bin entrapments end in death. Many of the deaths are farm children.

Entrapment numbers declined until 2014, when a bumper crop resulted in large amounts of on-farm storage. That year saw 38 documented entrapments nationally, resulting in 17 deaths, including one death in Missouri, says MU Extension state health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch.

Bassett enlisted the help of his friend, MU senior laboratory mechanic Delvin Mellerup, to build a prototype.

A few weeks ago, Bassett presented the prototype to Funkenbusch, Leon Schumacher, an MU agricultural engineering professor, and other MU Extension faculty. It is on display in the agricultural engineering building, where students, faculty and staff can study it and offer input.

Bassett and Mellerup agreed that the net must be convenient and easy for grain producers to install and use. The inventors don’t want to patent The Spider or make money from it. Their goal is simple — to save lives.

The prototype net floats above the grain. It fastens to hooks inside the grain bin. Counterweights allow it to adjust to the shifting of the grain. A winch on the outside of the bin raises and lowers the net correspond with the amount of grain in the bin.

Bassett wants to work with agriculture students to make a design with built-in safety features such as controls to automatically lock the winch and auger when the grain bin door closes.

This is not the first time MU Extension and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources have taken safety from the classroom to the farm.

In 2014, three of Schumacher’s students created a grain bin entrapment kit as their capstone project. The kit was on display at the 2015 Missouri State Fair in the Agriculture Building.

The kit mounts on the side of a grain bin. It includes a lightweight grain cofferdam, auger that runs with the use of a small power drill, platforms for rescuers to walk on, dust masks, respirators, ropes, harnesses, saws and lockout tags.

The $4,000-plus cost of the kit equates to about 11 cents per bushel, based upon the average grain storage per farm, students reported.

Farm kits and rescue kits for Missouri’s rural volunteer firefighters are becoming more popular as awareness and training increases. MU Extension’s Fire and Rescue Training Institute (MU FRTI) trains career and volunteer firefighters how to use rescue kits throughout the state using a mobile grain rescue simulator.

Dave Hedrick, director of MU FRTI, says the institute’s Basic Grain Engulfment Rescue course, which incorporates practical hands-on training using the mobile simulator, is in high demand. To date, 326 volunteer firefighters have been trained since it went on the road in summer 2015.

For more information on grain bin safety, see the MU Extension publication “Safe Storage and Handling of Grain” (G1969), available for free download at


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