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Study reveals sharp rise in grain entrapment cases

Farms in South Carolina and around the country can be dangerous places to work, and grain silos can be just as deadly as harvesting machines or loaders. Researchers from the Purdue University Agricultural Safety and Health Program release an annual survey of injuries and fatalities associated with grain handling and storage, and their report covering 2016 reveals a worryingly sharp increase in the number of farm workers who were killed or seriously injured after being submerged in grain.

The 29 entrapment cases reported in 2016 represent a 21 percent year-over-year increase according to the survey, but the number of workers killed after being submerged in grain rose by almost 29 percent from 14 to 18. A further 22 workers lost their lives in other grain-related accidents. A Purdue professor pointed out that the true death toll was likely higher because many accidents may have gone unreported.

OSHA must be notified when workers at large grain handling facilities are seriously injured or killed in workplace accidents, but small farms are not covered by this mandate. Industry experts point out that most of the accidents, injuries, and deaths mentioned in the annual Purdue University report occur on farms employing 10 or fewer workers that are not required to comply with OSHA regulations. A surge in grain-related deaths in 2010 prompted OSHA to step up its enforcement efforts, but inspections have been declining in recent years. OSHA inspectors visited 252 grain and bean wholesalers in 2012, but only 93 such sites were inspected in 2016.

Employers are expected to do all that they reasonably can to prevent their workers from being killed or injured on the job even if they are not subject to OSHA oversight. Injured workers generally file workers' compensation claims, but attorneys with experience in this area may recommend personal injury lawsuits in cases involving extreme negligence or recklessness on the part of the employer.

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