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How to Build a Grain Bin Ladder Safety Cage (Includes Safety Concerns, Info on Stairs and Vintage Methods)

Joy worked in construction for 7 years alongside her husband (25+ yrs. experience)—working on pole barns, grain bins, and barn repairs.

Safety Cage View (Incomplete)

This cage is partially installed on a bin on which the walls are 18 feet high, plus the hopper and peak.

This cage is partially installed on a bin on which the walls are 18 feet high, plus the hopper and peak.

Safety Cage Installation Overview

Safety cages vary quite a bit from one type of bin to the next, and from one era of construction to the next. You will need to consult the installation manual which came with your grain bin, if you have doubts as to how your particular model goes together. If you are building a model which is pre-2018 or older, and you have no manual available, do the best you can and look around for ideas. Consult someone familiar with this type of construction, and see what they recommend . . . or skip the ladder and cage altogether and build stairs, which are considered safer.

Many types of cages simply bolt together and then bolt to the main ladder. Some types wire or weld on.

Below are a few examples to get you started.

Tools List

Since cages vary so much in their construction, I can't offer exact instructions or tell you precisely which tools you will need. Hardware is normally provided from the cage manufacterer, and is probably the same as for the ladder(s).

For another style, you may have to decide amongst a few options.

Here are some average tools required for the job:

  • 9/16-inch box-end wrenches (2 at least), with long handles--or whatever size your hardware is
  • High quality impact wrench
  • Vice grips (may be optional, depending on type of cage)
  • Hearing protection--preferably ear-muff or electronic type
  • Drill and appropriate metal bits, for correcting potential manufacturing errors on bolt holes
  • Scrap lumber for placing under parts to be drilled if they are not already anchored
  • Permanent marker, black wide tip (hopefully optional)
  • Tape measure, standard, if needing to mark for drilling holes
  • Work gloves which allow for dexterity (optional)
  • Comfortable work boots with decent tread, hard toes optional
  • Work clothes which will not snag or allow you to get hurt easily
  • Slipjoint pliers (optional, but can be handy)
  • Tool pouch/apron, or coffee cans/small buckets for hardware (a small pouch is annoying as it must be refilled often, and is hard to reach into)

Cautions for Use

Due to their inherently dangerous nature, I have seen few examples of completed safety cages. Those below are not all complete. The minimum requirements were met in order to go to work.

Why was this done?

While a safety cage is designed to catch a person should they lose their balance or become frightened or dizzy, they often create more problems than they solve. It can happen like this:

Do You Want to Be in One Piece or Many?

If you begin to fall and catch yourself on the cage, so far so good.

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But if you fall and fail to catch yourself, you wind up hitting the cage on the way down. Naturally, every time you bump that cage, or knock against another bar, your chances of experiencing serious injury go up. By the time you hit the ground, instead of a broken bone or a concussion, you may have multiple fractures or be dead.

So, apart from potential liability, it's up to you whether you think you are better off with or without a cage.

Weigh the risks and act accordingly.

In some cases, a safety harness is recommended, just as in wilderness climbing. Harnesses, too, have pros and cons. Yes, they can catch you . . . but they can also get in the way, waste time, and actually cause accidents through entanglements and mistakes.

Weigh the risks and act accordingly.

GlideLoc GuideRail Top Extension Exit Demonstration

Other Types

There are other types and styles of ladders, cages, and stairs in use. Each has its advantages and drawbacks, both during construction and use. As I am able to provide more examples, I'll add them to this article.

On shorter, smaller bins, farmers sometimes use extension ladder sections, with or without cages, which are bolted onto the bin. These work fine under average conditions.

On some vintage construction grain bins, whether steel or ckncrete block, shallow spiral staircases were used, wrapping the whole bin. Handrails and secure treads were included. A similar system is now popular (2020). Time will tell their worth, and whether they save injuries or only spend valuable minutes during harvest.

Installing Grain Bin Ladder on Fully Erected Bin

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Joilene Rasmussen

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