Corn, wheat, grain sorghum, soybeans and rice are major grain crops in the United States. Grains are harvested and held in large grain bins. Grain bins dangers are well known to workers in the farming industry. Safety procedures are also well known, but that does not mean that all injuries and deaths are avoided. A new study from Purdue University states “eight people died while trapped in grain last year.” In Indiana alone, there were two deaths and four injuries.
In 2010, there were a record number of 31 deaths in grain bins. National Public Radio and the Center of Public Integrity reviewed government records and found “that more than 660 farmers and workers died in more than 1,000 grain entrapment incidents since 1964.” Purdue researchers reported “in the past 50 years, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported with a fatality rate of 62 percent.” This is a total of 558 deaths.
There are six major hazards in the grain and feed industry: engulfment, falls, auger entanglement, “struck by,” electrocution hazards and combustible dust explosions. Engulfment happens “when a worker becomes buried by grain as they walk on moving grain or attempt to clear grain built up on the inside of a bin.” Once a worker is engulfed, there is a high chance they will suffocate. Workers can fall into a grain bin and suffer injuries if they are not careful. When trying to get grain moving, it is possible for a worker to get entangled in the auger used to move the grain from the bin. “Struck by” injuries occur when corn crusted up the sides of a grain bin, known as bridged corn, peels away from the side and traps workers. Electrical components can wear thin and pose electrocution hazards to workers.
The most visually staggering danger is combustible dust explosions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that “over the last 35 years, there have been over 500 explosions in grain handling facilities across the United States, which have killed more than 180 people and injured more than 675.”
OSHA published grain handling safety measures. These include
turning off all powered equipment to prevent moving grain while workers are inside grain bins;
having all employees entering a bin strapped into a harness and lifeline;
posting an observer outside the bin to watch those inside of the bin;
testing the air in the top of the grain bin and vesting combustible and toxic gasses out to prevent build up to hazardous levels;
prohibiting walking down grain to prevent grain flows trapping employees; and
making sure workers follow all safety precautions prior to entering grain bins.
(See: OSHA Grain Handling)
These measures aren’t new. Purdue University published a pamphlet on the Dangers of Flowing Grain in 1990. The author, a safety specialist, warns that “It takes only 4 or 5 seconds for you to submerge to the point where you’re helpless. And, it takes less than 20 seconds to be completely submerged in flowing grain.”
If you have been injured working in grain processing, contact our knowledgeable personal injury attorneys to help determine your rights.