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Farmers Taking Extra Precautions To Prevent Grain Bin Deaths

A Purdue researcher is advocating for increased regulation on grain farmers, but farmers themselves are largely opposed to more oversight.

grain bin

Photo: Big Grey Mare (Flickr)

Grain bin deaths often occur when the grain gets stuck to the sides of the bin and farmers enter the bins to loosen it.

Indiana farmers have begun taking more safety precautions in recent years after a spike in the number of Hoosiers who died in grain bin accidents in 2010.

Grain bin death occurs when a person is working in a grain bin and “drowns” in the grain, similar to quicksand.

“You can be sucked into the grain and pulled down with it,” says Indy Family Farms inventory controller Chester Birch. “So if there’s too much grain in the bin to where you can’t stand on solid footing, you don’t need to be in the bin.”

Recent lawsuits over grain bin deaths have brought the topic back to life in Indiana, as debate rages over fines, safety, and regulations. However, many Indiana farms are taking precautions to protect themselves.

Birch says it’s important to train employees properly with the safety regulations in their grain bins.

“It’s all about safety,” Birch says. “When is it safe to get in the bin? When is it not? Why do we have to stay out of the bin?”

Safety harnesses are another way to protect employees from getting sucked into the grain. These harnesses allow employees to be pulled up out of the grain if they must enter the bin.

Birch says employees at his farm aren’t allowed to work in grain bins unless their feet can touch solid ground, but he is also considering investing in harnesses.

Bill Field, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Purdue, has been collecting data on grain bin entrapments since 1977, but he says many cases go unreported.

“In most agricultural workplace related incidents— by nature, rural families tend not to litigate these cases,” Field says.

His national summaries include an overview of the victims and their ages, their geographical location, time of year, and any other information relevant to the case.

Field believes that all farms in the U.S. should have to comply with federal safety regulations. Most farms with fewer than 10 employees, he says, are exempt from complying with work safety standards.

He says total compliance would help protect farm workers because about 70 percent of the grain death fatalities he has recorded occurred at facilities that are exempt from workplace safety standards.

But regulations for which Field advocates are not always easy sells among farmers, who are largely opposed to increased government regulation of their work.

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