Grain Bins a Suffocation Hazard for Farm Workers in North Carolina

August brings the start of harvest season in North Carolina so the Occupational Safety & Health Administration recently issued an alert to farmers to protect employees from grain bin engulfment. Suffocation is a common hazard that can lead to grain bin injuries or deaths in North Carolina.

Statesville farm accident attorneys know farming is among the state’s most dangerous occupations. The number of farm accidents spike each spring and fall during planting and harvesting season.
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“Suffocation from engulfment is the leading cause of death in grain bins and the number of tragedies continues to climb,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “They can be avoided if owners and operators use well-known safety measures that are proven to prevent workers from being killed or seriously injured.”

Last year, Purdue University reported 26 fatalities from grain bin engulfments. There were a total of 51 workers engulfed in grain bins in 2010, which is the highest of any year that has been recorded.

Several life threatening injuries can be sustained in grain bins which include: falls; explosions or fires caused by an accumulation of grain dust; suffocation; amputations from operating grain machinery; or crushing injuries either from entrapment or from being pinned against equipment. Grain bins are dangerous because harvesting often means an employee needs to climb inside to store commodities like wheat, corn or oats. Grain storage can feel like quicksand and have a downward gravitational pull which causes workers to be pulled under the surface.

Three recent fatalities in June have prompted OSHA to issue a hazard advisory to grain bin workers and their employers during the height of crop season. According to the OSHA Hazard Alert, grain bin workers can become engulfed and suffocate from the following situations:

-The weight of a worker that stands on flowing or moving grain is too great to substantiate the support which causes them to sink into the grain due to the flow to the outlet that the grain takes under pressure. A worker that is approximately 6 feet tall takes roughly 11 seconds to become engulfed and only 5 seconds to become in danger of entrapment.

-When grain clumps together it is called bridging which is often created by mold or moisture getting into the grain. Bridged grain is not sturdy enough to hold the weight of the worker but also does not flow to open space like grain normally does which can lead to a caving in effect when a worker steps on a bridged grain area. Caving causes an avalanche effect which can bury and suffocate an employee rather quickly.

-Walls of grain are unsafe, despite how sturdy they look. Grain from the wall can often be loosened from the outside causing a caving effect onto a worker standing in the grain bin.

-Oxygen levels can become unsafe inside a grain bin. Lack of oxygen or other hazardous gases inside a grain bin can cause an employee to suffocate.

OSHA wallet card for grain safety offers some simple tips to save lives. Before workers enter a grain storage bin they should check with the employer to make sure all safety precautions have been taken. Employers should provide workers with a harness or boatswain chair and always have rescue equipment on hand, as well as a trained observer in constant contact with the employee working inside the grain bin. Air should be tested for flammable gas or toxins inside the bin before entering. Always disconnect or turn off powered equipment like an auger before climbing inside the grain bin. Lastly, don’t walk on bridged grain or knock it down to make it flow.

For more information about Grain Handling Facility standards visit OSHA’s website.

The Lee Law Offices, P.A. protect injured workers in North Carolina. If you or a loved one has been injured on the job or has a question about a disabilities claim, contact the firm for a free and confidential appointment at 1-800-887-1965.

More Blog Entries:
Fear of Losing a Job Can Silence North Carolina Workers Injured at Work, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog, August 4, 2011.

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Start Series on Job Hazards North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog, July 23, 2011.

Combustible Dust a Growing Hazard to North Carolina Workers, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog, May 1, 2011.

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