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Deaths, injuries among grain workers hit record

By Alyce Hinton

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Accidents in grain silos, storage bins and other facilities killed and injured a record number of workers through October this year, a study by Purdue University showed.

The October study showed 46 deaths and injuries so far in 2010, exceeding the previous record of 42 documented cases in 1993 from 16 U.S. states.

Of the 46 incidents through October, 25 were fatal. Most cases were in Illinois, which had 10 cases of death or injury, followed by Minnesota with eight. Iowa and Wisconsin reported five cases each.

The high toll was due to the poor quality of the corn crop harvested last year due to rain damage, Purdue University's Agricultural Safety and Health Program said.

Many of the injuries and deaths resulted from accidents inside storage bins. Workers entered silos to free up grain stuck to the wall and got sucked into the pile.

The study said 70 percent of these 'entrapment' cases occur on farms, and 30 percent at commercial grain facilities.

Bill Fields, a professor in the department of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University, who lead the team which did the study, said:

"A person can become entrapped within seconds and become buried with little likelihood of survival. Most entrapments result in fatality.

"The 2009 corn crop was put into storage bins with moisture levels too high, so it lumped together...causing workers to have to go in to break it up to make the grain flow easier. That's when they become trapped."

Since documentation of such cases began in 1964, there have been 800 cases of fatalities and injuries.

The commercial grain industry is regulated by standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Fields says laws are on the books which should prevent most of these cases from occurring in commercial facilities. The difficulty, he says, is that not everyone complies with these rules and farms are exempt from them.

(Reporting by Alyce Hinton; Editing by David Gregorio)

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