Grain silos, or bins, are commonly found on farms throughout the country. In the Midwest, in states like Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana, these large structures dot the landscape.
These are large cylinders that are used for grain storage and to hold other crops. These are found on both commercial farms and family farms.
Grain is fed into the silos by a machine called an auger. There are also augers that help sweep the crops outside of the silo. These are large rotating devices that are almost always fatal to employees when they get caught in it.
Farm Accidents Involving Silos
When grain is being fed into the silo, it creates enormous pressure. It is very easy for farm workers to get sucked into and engulfed by the grain.
This can occur in a matter of seconds. Once the worker becomes entrapped, it is extremely difficult to pull themselves out. Grain and corn in a silo can be like quicksand, and entrapment cases are becoming more common.
It is highly unpredictable and very easy for a worker to become trapped. When, it is nearly impossible for rescuers and first responders to save the accident victim.
Another large danger is that grain dust can be highly explosive. When there is an ignition source, the grain silo can explode.
OSHA Regulations to Make Grain Bins Safer
As you can imagine, grain silos are incredibly dangerous. As a result, there are numerous Occupational Safety and Health Administration farm safety standards to try to create a safe working environment for a very risky job.
The OSHA agricultural safety regulations that govern grain handling facilities are found in 29 CFR 1910.272.
Here are some of the OSHA regulations that govern silos:
When an employee walks into the silo, all equipment that can pose a danger to them must be disconnected.
Employees should not enter into a silo when the buildup of grain on the sides can engulf them. These entanglements can be fatal.
When an employee enters a silo where there is a risk of engulfment, they need to be equipped with a safety harness and other fall protection equipment.
When an employee enters a silo, there must be an employee stationed outside of the silo who is equipped to provide assistance.
United States Trends in Grain Bin Accidents
One trend that has become apparent in silo accidents is that they are becoming increasingly more dangerous. The fatality rate in these accidents in silos and grain elevators has gone up dramatically in recent years. Last year, 2019, was one of the worst years on record for silo accidents.
In fact, every silo accident report since March 2019 has involved a fatality. This spans 16 different accident reports and investigations. 20 of the last 23 silo accidents have involved one or more death.
Another trend in the silo accident data is that the number of mishaps is also on the rise. In 2016, there were a total of three OSHA investigations. The number rose to 11 in 2017 and 16 in 2018. OSHA statistics may even under-report the number of accidents because some people may not even inform OSHA of accidents.
Some of the increase in the number of grain silo accidents can be attributed to the weather in the Midwest. Because of heavy rains, farmers were forced to delay their grain harvest.
The grain that was harvested was more immature than it is usually is. As a result, the grain placed into silos was damper than usual.
Damp grain is more likely to clog the grain silo. When that happens, farmers need to enter the silo to remove the blockages. This is when silo accidents happen.
Farmers have also had to rush the harvest because it was so late. This puts the workers lives at risk as their employers may be cutting corners in the interest of time. The situation has gotten so bad that in February 2020, the Chicago office of OSHA warned farmers that they needed to step up their safety measures in light of the growing number of accidents.
There are a number of different ways that farm employees can get injured or killed in a grain silo. The most frequent cause of injury and death is when the employee either gets sucked or falls into the grain silo.
These silos can be up to 90 feet in height, so a fall from the top can easily kill someone. Employees can also be sucked into a silo and buried in corn or grain. This will cause them to suffocate.
Recent OSHA Accident Investigations
Here are some examples of recent OSHA accident investigations of silo injuries:
- Fine of $205,106 for a fatal fall – Two employees were working inside a grain bin. One employer climbed a fixed ladder to the top of the silo which was 70-feet high in an effort to exit the hatch. He did not have any fall protection. He fell and died on the spot due to his injuries. The employer was fined for a willful violation of OSHA safety rules since there was no fall protection.
- Fine for $24,800 for asphyxiation – An employee was using a ladder to enter the grain load out bin. He was carrying a piece of rebar in his hand to poke away clumped corn. He stopped responding to another employee outside the bid who was communicating with him. The employee was found at the bottom of the bin. He had been engulfed by the corn and suffocated.
- Fine for $23,868 for worker caught in the auger – Two employees were working on the floor of a silo, sweeping corn into the auger to get it out of the silo. One employee became caught in the auger. The other employee had left the silo to see why the flow of corn had stopped and returned to find his coworker caught in the auger. He died by cuts and lacerations.
Silo Injury Lawsuits
As is apparent from above, silo injuries can be severe. Most often, when there is a lawsuit filed, it is brought in the form of a wrongful death case. Thus, the damages and monetary award tends to be higher given the loss suffered. Here are two examples of verdicts and jury settlements.
- $75.5 million verdict in Illinois – four workers were severely injured when a machine that were using ignited. Decomposing wheat had melted the rubber gaskets in the silo so the cleaning machine caused an explosion.
- $1.6 million verdict in Kansas – a worker lost his leg when he was caught in a sweep auger when sweeping grain out of the silo.
If a family member has been killed in a silo accident, you should contact an attorney to learn more about filing a lawsuit for their silo accident.