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Grain bins and silos can pose deadly risks for farm workers

Silos housing wheat, corn, soybeans and other agricultural products are a common sight for North Dakotans. However, as farmworkers know, these massive storage buildings can pose serious dangers.

According to research by Purdue University, there were over 170 recorded cases of grain entrapment in the U.S. between 2015 and 2020. Another 30% of cases may go unreported each year. Other risks for workers include grain dust fires, falls and injuries involving grain handling equipment.

Grain bin suffocation dangers

Suffocation is the most common cause of storage bin deaths. Stored grain can shift or collapse suddenly due to air pockets hidden below the surface. Workers standing near or on the vertical pile can become completely buried within seconds.

Additional risks for bin and silo workers

Other common hazards in and around grain handling facilities include:

  • Grain dust explosions: overheated or malfunctioning equipment can easily ignite small particles of airborne grain dust, often leading to deadly explosions and/or intense fires
  • Falls from heights: unguarded platforms, catwalks, ladders, manlifts and other elevated surfaces can pose a serious risk of falling as workers perform their duties
  • Machinery accidents: mechanical equipment, such as conveyors and augers, present the hazard of worker entanglement in moving parts, leading to amputations and crushing injuries
  • Toxic gas exposure: infected or rotting grain can produce dangerous levels of nitric oxide, carbon dioxide and other toxic gases within confined spaces

The high risk of serious injury or death for silo workers makes it essential that farm employers maintain facility safety. In addition to providing employees with proper training and safety equipment, employers should make sure to have procedures in place to prevent mechanical, fire and toxic gas hazards.