Injuries, fatalities from agricultural confined space incidents increased last year: report

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Grain bins at Purdue University Agronomy Center for Research and Education, 2017. (Purdue Agricultural Communications photo/Tom Campbell)

Ohio and Pennsylvania were among the states with the most agricultural confined spaces-related injuries and fatalities last year, according to an annual report recently released by Purdue University.

The number of cases in 2022 jumped up more than 40% over the previous year, according to the 2022 Summary of U.S. Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries and Fatalities. There were 83 cases in 2022.

“Despite the significant resources being devoted to addressing the issue, the number of reported cases continues to be a cause for concern,” the report stated.

Details

Nearly half of the total cases were grain-related entrapments. There were 42 cases, a 45% increase over 2021. This is the highest number of reported grain entrapments in over a decade.

Grain entrapments are the most common type of agricultural confined space incident, and one that can be prevented, said Edward Sheldon, one of the report authors and a research associate in Purdue’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program.

“Many entrapments result from someone entering a bin or structure to break loose clumped, spoiled grain,” he said. “Keep the grain in good condition to eliminate the need to enter the bin.”

Of the 41 non-grain-related cases, incidents involved livestock waste handling facilities, entanglements inside confined spaces, falls from confined space structures and grain dust explosions or fires. There were 11 recorded cases involving livestock waste storage pits or lagoons, eight of which were fatal.

Increase

Most of the increase in cases last year was due largely to one incident — a grain plant explosion in Iowa that injured 15 people — but the cases in 2022 were higher than both the 5- and 10-year average.

The oldest victim was 75 and the youngest was 4 years old. Seven cases involved children or young adults under the age of 21.

Iowa reported the most agricultural confinement cases, at 24, and grain entrapment cases at nine. Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota tied for second with six confinement cases each. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, Mississippi and Georgia and had four confinement cases each.

Incidents are becoming easier to track, thanks to online media reports, so that may be pushing reported cases up, Sheldon said. Purdue University has been tracking grain-related incident data since 1975 and has expanded its reach over the years to include other types of confinement incidents.

It’s estimated that about 30% of incidents go unreported, particularly those that are nonfatal and those that take place at operations not covered by federal OSHA injury reporting requirements.

“There is a better awareness for safety among farmers, but we’ve got a ways to go,” Sheldon said.

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