Virginia Farm Bureau warns farmers as grain-bin deaths surge

RICHMOND—As the rate of national grain bin fatalities climbs, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation urges Virginia farmers to follow safety precautions.

After 27 grain bin deaths occurred in 2018, statistics published in a Purdue University report found that an additional 15 people were killed in grain bin accidents between August and mid-December 2019.

More fatalities have been reported since then, and Dana Fisher, chairman of the bureau’s Farm Safety Advisory Committee, is hoping the trend will encourage Virginia farmers to exercise caution.

“Because we’re in the heat of the moment or we’re trying to get something done, I think we’re putting ourselves in situations we shouldn’t because we’re trying to do things in a hurry,” Fisher said. “I hope these increased incidents are causing folks to think a little more about it, and that the folks who are doing this work have more knowledge.”

The problem has been largely considered a regional issue. Seventy-two percent of all recorded grain bin accidents have occurred in the Midwest with only 11 percent on the East Coast. But the grain entrapment death of an Amelia County farm employee in 2018 and increased grain storage in Virginia have made grain bin safety a priority in the commonwealth.

The Virginia farm bureau safety committee is providing Virginia farmers with resources such as information from the Grain Handling Safety Coalition that outlines safe practices for working in and around grain bins. Farmers also are encouraged to consult their grain bin dealers and local fire departments trained in grain extrication for additional recommendations.

Some of the safety measures suggested include never entering a bin to break down grain and shutting off, locking and tagging equipment before entering a grain bin to prevent entrapment and entanglement. Workers also are advised to work in pairs, keeping communication open should an accident occur.

With the number of Virginia farmers inexperienced in grain storage increasing, Fisher hopes simple safety reminders and heightened awareness will help farmers avoid accidents.

“Until you’ve seen the dangers, you really just don’t understand sometimes. That’s the hardest part,” Fisher said. “The solutions to this are not complex. It’s just a matter of taking the time to be cautious, and that’s true across all farm safety.”

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