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Grain engulfment deaths up on US farms reach alarming levels

Grain entrapment or engulfment on Kansas farms and in agricultural communities around the country has become common. According to recent university research, a record high of 51 grain accidents caused U.S. farm workers to be buried by fast-flowing grain in 2010. In those incidents, 26 people were killed in fatal accidents.

Farm workers employed by small, commercial grain handlers often are not covered by workers' compensation insurance. Federal farm safety rules, regulated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, do not apply to farmers with 10 or fewer employees.

OSHA has made confined spaces training and safety a priority. That's good news for grain handlers to which federal laws apply but not so encouraging for employees who work on small farms, many of them teenagers.

A woman at a recent Midwest Rural Agricultural Safety and Health Conference described how her 19-year-old nephew and 14-year-old co-worker suffocated in a half million bushel grain bin two years ago. Several teens were given the job of loosening corn stuck to the bin walls. The pile the farm workers were walking upon collapsed and sucked the teens into the bin. One boy escaped, while another took hours to rescue. The accident resulted in the death of the woman's nephew and his co-worker. Investigators found negligence and fined the employer.

Engulfment accidents happen when farm workers are standing on, below or near areas where grain is flowing or stuck. Some fatal accidents occur when workers are trying to dislodge grain build up on the sides of bins.

Agriculture officials hope to develop technology that prevents people from having to enter grain or manure storage areas. Safety information and training must make due until the day comes when grain handlers are no longer in danger on the job.

Source: uiowa.edu, "Ingraining safer farming practices," Debra Venzke, Dec. 13, 2012

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