A recently released report by Purdue University highlights a disturbing rise in agricultural confined space accidents in the United States. In 2022 alone, there were 83 reported incidents, marking a 40.7% increase compared to the previous year. Tragically, 24 of these accidents resulted in at least one fatality.
Grain-related entrapments accounted for more than half of the confined space accidents, with 42 reported cases in 2022. This represents a staggering 44.8% increase over 2021, making it the highest number of grain-related entrapments in over a decade. The remaining 41 incidents involved livestock waste handling facilities, entanglements inside confined spaces, falls from confined space structures, and grain dust explosions or fires.
Livestock waste storage pits or lagoons were responsible for 11 non-grain entrapments, eight of which were fatal, including a heartbreaking incident involving a 16-year-old boy. Alarmingly, eight incidents involved more than one person, and a single explosion in Iowa resulted in injuries to 15 individuals.
The state of Iowa reported the highest number of cases overall, with 24 incidents. Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio each reported six cases. It is noteworthy that all but one of the documented cases involved males, with victims ranging in age from 4 to 75. Shockingly, five grain entrapment cases involved individuals under the age of 21.
The report reveals an increase in non-fatal cases in 2022, but historically, there have been significantly more fatal incidents than non-fatal ones. This suggests a previous under-reporting of non-fatal accidents. However, the report also highlights the positive impact of increased training for emergency first responders, which has led to more effective rescue strategies and a higher proportion of non-fatal injuries being reported.
Grain entrapment incidents were found to be closely linked to spoiled grain. The report emphasizes that non-flowing grain poses the greatest risk, contrary to the common assumption that flowing grain is the main hazard. Improper storage techniques, such as storing grain at moisture levels above 14%, rewetting grain with moist outside air, and structural leaks allowing moisture ingress, contribute to grain spoilage and subsequent entrapment risks.
Despite extensive training and investment in rescue equipment, the number of reported cases continues to be a cause for concern. The report suggests reevaluating national priorities and exploring preventive measures, such as providing free moisture testers for grain storage, as they may have a more significant impact in reducing accidents compared to focusing solely on emergency grain rescue strategies.
The rising trend of incidents related to agricultural waste storage and handling, transport, and other livestock waste operations is also alarming. The average age of victims in these incidents is lower than that of U.S. farmers, indicating that younger and less experienced farmers are more vulnerable to such accidents.
As confined space accidents persist, it is imperative to prioritize safety education, implement proper storage techniques, and enhance preventive measures to protect the lives of those working in the agricultural sector.