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Grain Bin and Silo Safety

This week author John M. Broder published the article 'Silos Loom as Death Traps on American Farms' in the New York Times. This article serves to highlight the unfortunate reality that grain bin and silo related deaths on US farms remain a constant threat to workers, even as other accident related deaths on farms have fallen. This article offers readers a real-life perspective by documenting the accidental deaths of several teenage farm workers. It should be noted that teenage farm workers represent only 4 percent of all US workers, but account for more than 40 percent of workplace deaths.

The article notes that the annual number of grain bin and silo deaths have been steadily increasing over the last 10 years, peaking at 26 deaths in 2012. The problem occurs when workers enter a grain bin or silo and the unstable grain filling it (primarily corn, soybeans and wheat) cascades out of control crushing or asphyxiating the workers.
While farmers are often aware of the hazards related to sending workers into filled grain bins, they lack equipment that could serve to protect workers against avalanche risks. Noted in the article is that virtually every entrapment death in silos and grain bins is preventable, when farms are kitted with basic equipment and adhere to federal guidelines.

Suggested guidelines developed by the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration include:

• Turn the power off to all equipment, particularly loaders and augers prior to any worker enter a grain bin or silo,
• All workers entering a grain bin or silo should be provided with a safety harness and supporting chair,
• An observer should always be present outside of the grain bin or silo to monitor the activities of the worker entering,
• No workers should enter a grain bin or silo which has grain bridged or built up on the sides,
• Air monitoring must occur to evaluate the presence of combustible or toxic gases.

A simple pulley system, safety harness and set of boards to fence off entrapped workers costs less than $1,000 per silo, while efforts such as having a observer and cutting power to equipment has no cost involved at all. These are low cost efforts that can help to improve outcomes involving grain bin and silo operations.

Implementing simple procedural guidelines can mean the difference between life and death when a worker is trapped in a grain bin or silo, for our youngest workers this is an effort that we all can afford.

To read the full text of the article please go to: