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Buried Alive.

A better agricultural safety program could reduce grain bin mishaps

Suffocating beneath a ton of grain is an awful way to die. Hundreds have lost their lives in grain bin accidents over the past 30 years but Purdue University safety specialists hope to change the trend.

Purdue's Agricultural Safety and Health Program (ASHP) staff recently documented fatal and non-fatal engulfment cases occurring in farm grain bins from 1966 to 1998. Though rare, engulfment cases will likely continue to occur as more grain is stored on farms.

To address the problem, ASHP reviewed previously-developed educational materials related to flowing grain hazards. They also interviewed survivors, witnesses and emergency personnel involved in rescue operations at engulfment sites.

A systems approach was chosen to create a program to help reduce the number of fatalities occurring in farm grain bins. This approach involved developing a prototype research-based grain hazard awareness and rescue curriculum for farmers and rural first response personnel. In fall 1999 and spring and summer 2000, the curriculum was field tested with more than 600 participants during workshops and training events.

The statistics

Fatal engulfment cases logged in the Purdue University Agricultural Entrapment Database (PUAED) were summarized to better quantify the engulfment problem and identify contributing factors for the curriculum. The database contained more than 400 fatal and non-fatal engulfment cases in flowing grain since 1966.

The PUAED case summary found that roughly five fatalities per year were documented during the past three decades. Seventy-five percent of them involved victims older than 16 and more than 96 percent of those victims were male. In 76 percent of the cases victims were involved with unloading bins. One of the biggest factors was trying to remove crusted, out-of-condition grain while the unloading equipment was operating.

An earlier ASHP study related to engulfments at commercial facilities found that 80 percent of partially entrapped victims died. These deaths resulted from asphyxiation due to ingestion of grain, or injuries caused by entanglement in equipment or during rescue attempts when partially engulfed victims became fully buried by grain and suffocated. Ninety percent of fully entrapped victims died before being extricated from the grain mass. Out-of-condition grain was also a contributing factor in commercial engulfments.

Teaching methods

A review of existing rescue educational materials found that some were outdated and did not represent current farm storage practices. Information was often based on individual cases and general anecdotal material lacking an objective research base. Some materials failed to address the audience most likely to work in a farm grain bin. Recommendations for preventing and responding to engulfments were untested, offering questionable efficacy. Following some of these recommendations may have had the opposite effect, leading to increased risk to victims and rescue personnel.

The lack of available teaching resources has led to a large number of requests for materials from university safety specialists, farmers, farm organizations, industry-related safety officials and county extension staff. An all encompassing plan to reduce fatalities in farm grain bins required developing a new approach to the problem.

Creating a plan

A systems approach was used to incorporate all of the factors that might lead to an engulfment into a solution. This method included designing curriculum contents with consideration to new aspects including:

* human behavior and attitudes toward personal safety,

* harvesting and grain handling equipment conditions and settings,

* regulations and enforcement,

* crop type and variety,

* grain storage management philosophies, practices and trends,

* engineering solutions,

* rescue and response procedures,

* labor management practices,

* environmental factors and influences,

* grain marketing factors,

* on- and off-farm storage practices and trends,

* primary language of labor force,

* risk assessment and hazard analysis techniques.

ASHP staff explored these and other aspects to develop a core curriculum content, which initially concentrated on hazard awareness and engulfment scenario information. ASHP staff began field testing their curriculum using overhead transparencies in classes of farmers, rescue personnel and students in Purdue's agricultural safety and health class. Besides classroom-only sessions, farmers and rescue workers participated in hands-on rescue training workshops offered at four Purdue research farms.

Feedback was obtained from all participants and curriculum revisions were made to increase effectiveness and better meet observed audience needs. Details concerning bulk materials characteristics, grain flow pattern during bin unloading and unique grain bin features were added to the content

ASHP staff noticed a contrast between the knowledge base and hazard awareness of farmers and rescue workers. While farmers generally understood flowing grain hazards and had equipment knowledge, many rescue workers lacked adequate hazard awareness and working knowledge of grain handling equipment functions. Other feedback and observations lead to modifications in the curriculum content regarding specific rescue techniques.

OSHA's impact

Rescue methods used in actual on-farm engulfment cases and at commercial sites were studied. Procedures were reviewed in commercial facilities where stringent U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require documented confined space entry and rescue procedures. The approach used for these facilities varies based on rescue equipment availability.

Rescuers at commercial sites or sites near metropolitan areas use specialized equipment such as harnesses, lifelines, oxygen measuring devices and tripods during rescue attempts. Much of this equipment, and the training to use it, is often unavailable to rural volunteer fire/rescue services that lack the resources to adhere to all OSHA confined space entry procedures. Also, most on-farm bins are incompatible with the design requirements found in the procedures.

For example, suggested rescue techniques such as cutting V-shaped slots in bin panels to quickly let grain out during rescue, have not been scientifically tested. Conversations with bin manufacturers indicate that cutting holes in bin panels could cause a bin to collapse, especially when it has a larger than 40,000-bushel (3,681.3-cubic-meter) capacity.

However, during engulfment investigations involving holes cut into bins researcher found that no bins had collapsed. A review of bin sizes where engulfment victims died revealed that these people were usually entrapped in bins with a smaller than 15,000-bushel (1,380-cubic-meter) capacity. The hole-cutting technique remains a primary topic in the curriculum's rescue portion but it has not been proven scientifically as a safe procedure.

Before completing the final curriculum package, components will be reviewed for effectiveness. Input will be sought from a panel of safety experts from universities and industry, plus farmers and engineers who will be asked to develop a best possible response. Follow-up component field testing will also be conducted by instructors to ensure user friendliness in various settings.

The ultimate goal of this project is to provide educators a package that will help reduce the likelihood of engulfment in grain bins and increase the rate of successful rescues when engulfments occur.

ASAE member Douglas M. Kingman is a graduate research assistant and ASAE member William E. Field is an extension safety specialist.
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Title Annotation:grain bin accidents
Author:Kingman, Douglas M.; Field, William E.
Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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