Farm work has always been a dangerous business, from operating heavy machinery to dealing with occasionally unpredictable domestic animals. Although the Puget Sound region mostly farms the more gentle crops of grapes and flowers, across the mountains, the working farms of eastern Washington can approach the scale, and thus, dangers of any mega-farm of the Mid West.
Recently the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has focused attention on a little known danger farming work entails: the hazards of working inside grain storage bins. Working inside bins can expose workers to potentially fatal dangers such as fires and even explosions caused by grain dust accumulation, suffocation from becoming tapped in the grain, and injuries resulting from grain handling equipment. In fact, a Purdue University study discovered that in just 2010 51 workers became engulfed in grain, resulting in 26 deaths, the highest number ever recorded.
Many of us are familiar of the almost tranquil sight of tall grain bins standing out against the pastoral horizon of a farm. The grain of corn, wheat and oats are small and airy, and in small batches, can seem harmless. However, it is the enormous quantities of grain that reside within bins that can turn this harmless material into something deadly. In fact, due to the physics of grain, it surge and flow very much like quicksand, engulfing a worker when gravity takes over.
OSHA is distributing wallet cards that highlight the dangers of working in grain bins and important precautions employers and workers can take. Precautions include prohibiting workers from walking on grain to prevent flow; disconnecting equipment; providing rescue equipment; and always ensuring there is observer outside the bin who can take quick action in case of an emergency.