Health & Safety, OSHA

Danger in Idle Grain

From, Eric Durbin, 26 Sept 2011.

(Photo by Eric Durban/Harvest Public Media)

(Photo by Eric Durban/Harvest Public Media)

On the farm, danger comes in many forms: massive, hulking machinery; wild animals; unbearable heat.

But one of the most tragic killers, it turns out, is small, plentiful and quite deceptive.

Grain — when stored in mass in the bins and silos that are common across the Midwest — can trap a person much like quicksand. It takes just seconds to be covered, engulfed and then suffocated.

In 2010, there were more than 51 grain bin accidents in the United States, the most since tracking began in 1978, according to a Purdue University report. Twenty-five people died, including five children under the age of 16.

A growing issue

U.S. grain entrapments over the last five years. Source: 2010 Summary of Grain Entrapments in the United States Credit: Eric Durban/Harvest Public Media

U.S. grain entrapments over the last five years. Source: 2010 Summary of Grain Entrapments in the United States Credit: Eric Durban/Harvest Public Media

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the number of grain bin deaths have doubled between 2006 and 2010. Buildings and structures, including grain bins, account for 33 percent of on-farm deaths.
We’ve produced more grain the last several years, and that may be part of the problem. More grain requires more places to store it, and so additional bins have been built.

And no slowdown is in sight. The latest corn projections put the 2011 harvest at 12.5 billion bushels, slightly above last year. Purdue University noted that most of the accidents in 2010 involved yellow corn, and also pointed out that ethanol production has led to a buildup of storage capacity.

The danger isn’t hard to visualize. Although grain bins vary widely in size depending on the farming operation, larger structures can hold hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain. At 56 pounds a bushel for corn, there could easily be several tons of pressure in a bin.

A wet crop also can lead to more work around the bins. Farmers will often enter the bin to break up clumped grain so it will flow out of the bin easier.

Children can be at particular risk, which may also speak to the issue of children working on the farm. As Harvest Public Media’s Peggy Lowe highlighted in a recent post, laws regarding children working on the farm may be undergoing some changes. With proper training, are grain bins safe for children? Share your thoughts with the Harvest Network.

Following the tragic death of two Illinois teenagers in summer 2010, OSHA sent a letter to more than 13,000 grain bin operators across the country informing them that it’s the operator’s legal responsibility to protect and train their workers.

The OSHA letter also listed two cases where penalties of more than a million dollars were issued to operator’s who had employees die on the job.

Now the industry is getting to work on the problem in Kansas.

A group of Kansas grain industry organizations recently donated $90,000 to the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute, based in Lawrence, Kan., to purchase special rescue training equipment to train firefighters and grain handlers for rescues in grain bin accidents.

“Safety is of primary concern to the grain industry,” Kansas Grain and Feed Association president Tom Tunnell said in a press release. “First and foremost is training to prevent entrapments. But it is important that grain handlers and local firefighters be prepared to respond if ever the need arises.”

The institute is mobile and designed to provide training anywhere in Kansas.

The National Corn Growers Association also is reaching out with guidance for farmers. Check out this eye-opening  video released by the group earlier this year.

Source:, “Danger in idle grain” by Eric Durbin, 26 Sept 2011.


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