Every year, tens of thousands of dollars are spent on claims caused by grain dryers. Yet every year, grain dryers are commonly used in many areas of the country. It’s a common practice for many elevators.

When things go properly, grain dryers are a very successful and important part of a grain management program. However, when things go wrong, grain dryers can have very costly consequences. Dryer fires have the potential to destroy grain and equipment, often leading to considerable downtime, workplace safety issues, and lost revenue.

This article addresses the three most common causes for grain dryer fires:

1. Inadequate training in the use and care of the equipment.

2. Inadequate or improper maintenance.

3. Proper start-up or shutdown procedures.

Training Focus

For a variety of factors, the grain industry’s workforce is trending toward less and less grain handling experience. Therefore, it is more important than ever to ensure employees are trained properly. Too often, training is a check-box instruction that fails to describe the importance and the purpose of the procedures.

Even our most seasoned employees need to be reminded that cutting corners is dangerous, costly, and even can be deadly. By explaining the story behind the procedure, we can give employees mental ammunition to stay on track and following procedures.

Maintenance Frequency

Maintenance and inspection controls are crucial to avoid grain dryer fires and related issues. There are many different types and designs of grain dryers, but they all need to be maintained and serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Sometimes needs require more frequent service. Your maintenance program should include annual inspections by the manufacturer or a third party.

Fuel lines should be inspected for weak or faulty connections. Discharge conveyors should be checked to ensure they are not clogged. Hazard monitoring systems need to be checked for proper function.

Keep exterior screens clean, especially on tower-style dryers.

Ensure all electric wiring, burner systems, and other key components are installed by a professional and meet the manufacturer’s recommendations and any applicable codes.

Ensure your grain dryer is equipped with an automatic shutdown system.

These systems allow you to easily cut off fuel or heat sources, stop the flow of grain, and sound an alarm.

Operating Procedures

Using a grain dryer safely and efficiently includes well-written and -followed start-up and shutdown procedures. Most grain dryer manufacturers have an established routine for cleaning their models. However, in some locations, drying frequency and grain quality might require more cleaning of the dryer.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires cleaning grain dryers every 24 hours at a minimum, but some circumstances and conditions may require more frequent cleaning.

Provide a fire watch after the dryer has been shut down. OSHA states in regulation 1910.272(p) that direct-heat grain dryers need to be equipped with automatic controls to shut off the fuel supply in the event of a failure with the system.

Grain dryers are a valuable tool in receiving and conditioning grain, but they must be respected. Without proper maintenance and start-up and shutdown procedures, grain dryers can be a costly liability.

Give grain dryers the attention they deserve. It can help prevent costly incidents and continue to send your employees home safely.

Dean Alling is safety director for Ray-Carroll County Grain Growers in Richmond, MO (deana@ray-carroll.com/817-932-1000).