Grain storage bin entry is very dangerous and exposes workers to serious suffocation hazards - a leading cause of fatalities in this industry. Suffocation can occur when workers are engulfed (buried or covered) by grain or when bins develop hazardous atmospheres or a lack of oxygen.
On March 18, 2020, the National Grain and Feed Association released the statistics from Purdue University for the number of deaths in the grain storage industry:
Purdue University’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program recently released its “2019 Summary of U.S. Agricultural and Confined-Space Related Injuries and Fatalities” report, which documents 38 grain entrapment cases that occurred in 2019. The 38 cases represent an almost 27 percent increase in grain entrapments from 2018, when 30 entrapments were recorded. The total number of fatal and non-fatal entrapments is the highest in four years. In 2019, the state with the most documented grain entrapments — fatal and non-fatal — was Minnesota with seven cases total. Notably, Purdue does not specifically identify the number of grain entrapment cases that occurred on farm versus at commercial facilities. Historically, 70 percent of grain entrapments have occurred on farms.
In February 2020, OSHA Region V distributed a letter to grain storage facility operators, stating an increase in grain bin deaths are attributed to weather conditions in late 2019:
Heavy rains in 2019 contributed to record floods across the central United States, causing unprecedented delays in planting crops and resulting in the fall harvest being stored with a high moisture content, increasing the possibility of grain clumping and molding. This may cause workers to enter bins to clean crops from sidewalls and augers to allow the grain to flow from the storage bin. Similar weather conditions in 2009 resulted in the industry’s highest number of injuries and fatalities with 51 workers engulfed by grain stored in bins and 26 fatally injured in 2010.