A continued look at grain bin accidents

During a post last month, we talked about the story of three boys who were trapped in the bottom of a grain bin in Illinois. Two of the boys, a 14-year-old and a 19-year-old died during the accident. An investigation by the United States Labor Department found the owners of the grain bin to have violated child labor laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Since our initial discussion of the case more facts have come to light.

According to one professor from the Department of Agriculture Engineering at the University of Illinois, a person who steps into a grain bin that has flowing corn can be immobilized in 10 seconds. That means the person can be completely submerged and drowning in corn in that short time frame. People are normally sent into a grain bin to break up large clumps of grain. Clumps form when the grain is moist and starts to decompose. There are multiple dangers when a person enters a grain bin. Grain can stick to the side of bins and can collapse onto passing workers. Sinkholes can form if machinery is on and workers can be pulled into a sinkhole if they walk too close. Workers who walk across the top of the grain can plunge below when the surface of the grain breaks.

Federal safety precautions have been established to regulate grain bin safety. Any time a person enters a grain bin, machinery is supposed to be shut off, and any person who enters is also supposed to wear a safety harness that can pull the worker to safety. The farm that hired the boys did not abide by grain bin safety standards. According to the regional director of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, none of the boys received training nor had farm backgrounds.

On the day of the accident, a farm manager decided to open three holes in the floor of the 500,000 bushel grain bin the three young boys were working in. According to the boy that survived the accident, the boys were outfitted with shovels and pick axes to break-up clumps of corn. Occasionally the boys would sit on the corn in order to help move it. One of the boys was sitting on the corn and when he stood up he was already knee deep in a sinkhole. The two other boys rushed to his side and all three began to sink together.

The grain machinery was turned off but the corn continued to move and swallowed two of the boys. The older boy survived because he was taller than the other two boys, and it took rescuers six hours to free him from the corn. The families of the boys are in complete disbelief as to why safety standards were not followed.

Source: Chicago Tribune, “Grain bin accidents get a fresh look by federal authorities,” Judith Graham, 3/10/11

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