Grain Elevator Explosions Put Workers at Risk of Burn and Other Injuries

Tragedy recently rocked Atchison, Kansas, when a grain elevator exploded leaving six men dead and two seriously injured.

Our Hickory farm accident lawyers know that harvest season is a time when farmers and large agricultural operations face unique risks and the number of accidents increase during this season.
Working at a grain elevator is a physically demanding job, so it is no surprise that four of the six men killed were under the age of 25. Farmers take their corn and other products to grain elevators for storage until it is sold.

In a previous post on our North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog we discussed the dangers of combustible dust. The movement of the grain sends large amounts of highly combustible particles into the air. A spark from a machine can set the dust on fire, causing a devastating blast.

The destruction caused by this fatal blast postponed the body recovery efforts for three of the victims because the structure was too unstable. Among the fatalities were two grain inspectors, one having 16 years of experience inspecting facilities. Sadly one of the workers killed was due to be married in a few weeks.

The two injured workers were taken to the The University of Kansas Hospital. One worker was pushing grain cars with a locomotive outside the elevator when the blast happened. He ran when he saw the fireball, escaping without any injuries.

The investigation continues to determine what caused the explosion at a company reported to have an “exemplary” safety record.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics show more than 600 grain elevators explosions over the last several decades have occurred, causing more than 250 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. Ohio, Louisiana, South Dakota, Illinois and Nebraska all had non-fatal grain fire or explosions last year.

Grain elevator safety has increased dramatically since the establishment of rules and protocols in the late 1970s after 50 people were killed in explosions in four states over a six-day period.

Here is some valuable information from the North Carolina Department of Labor’s A Guide to Safety and Health in Feed and Grain Mills relating to grain elevator explosions.

The following have to exist simultaneously for a dust explosion to occur:

-Grain dust has to be present as the primary fuel source.

-There needs to be oxygen.

-A confined space.

-Some type of ignition source needs to be present. For example, hot bearings, cutting and welding, belt slippage, or a foreign object caught in equipment are likely causes. Less likely causes could be lightning, spontaneous combustion, stone or metal sparks, and static electricity.

How to control grain dust accumulation:

-Have vacuums in areas where there is constant dust accumulation.

-Use a wash-down procedure in areas that allow water.

-Slow the flow of the grain to cut down on the dust.

-Use dust-control systems like cyclones or filters.

-Use a Compressed air, blow-down procedure.

If you or someone you know has been injured, or you know someone who has been killed in a farming accident in North Carolina, call the the Lee Law Offices, P.A. for a free consultation. Call 1-800-887-1965 today to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Iraq war veteran, husband-to-be, future farmer among 6 killed in Kansas grain elevator blast, by The Associated Press, posted in The Washington Post.

More Blog Entries:

Grain Bins a Suffocation Hazard for Farm Workers in North Carolina, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog, August 26, 2011.

Silos Present Serious Risk of North Carolina Work Injury this Spring, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog, March 23, 2011.

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