Monday, October 29, 2012

Grain bin and silo entrapment deaths stay steady as other farm fatalities drop; teen boys at risk

The rate of serious injury and death on U.S. farms has fallen, but the number of people dying by entrapment in grain bins and silos has remained steady, with the annual number of such accidents rising over the past decade and reaching a peak of 26 in 2010. Many of the victims are teenage boys, with 14 dying since 2007. "The deaths are horrific and virtually all preventable," John Broder of The New York Times reports. (Mirror-Democrat photo by Bob Watson: deadly Illinois silo accident rescue in 2010)

Experts say the high rate of silo deaths can be blamed on the large amounts of corn being stored in the U.S. to meet global demand for food, feed and ethanol-based fuel. The persistence of such deaths "reveals continuing flaws in the enforcement of worker safety laws and weaknesses in rules meant to protect the youngest farmworkers," Broder writes. Last year, the U.S. Labor Department attempted to strengthen farm child labor laws, but backed down after push-back from farmers who claimed they shouldn't be told by the government that their children can't work on the family farm. The legislation was never directed at farmers' families and wouldn't have covered conditions on small operations, which account for 70 percent of grain entrapments, Broder reports. Experts say most farmers are aware of the risks, but don't have the proper equipment or training to protect their workers against grain avalanche.

Purdue University agricultural professor William Field told Broder "virtually every entrapment is preventable" by following Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines. Those guidelines require employers to turn off all power equipment before workers enter silos, provide workers with a harness or supporting chair and have an observer watch grain bin and silo workers at all times. (Read more)

1 comment:

David Oliver-Holder said...

I was left bewildered by the article in the NY Times, but even more so by the video clip that accompanied the article. The clip reports that the national and many state farm bureau's lobbied hard against the Labor Department's proposed rules. Rather than just reacting, why could they not work with the Labor Dept. to draft acceptable rules. The Farm Bureau called the proposed rules "an attack on the rural way of life." What a cynical euphemism! We should all wonder whose interests are actually being protected. And I would invite folks to write to the Farm Bureau(s) to protest.

Rev. David Oliver-Holder
A rural pastor
Bayfield, Wisconsin