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Don’t work alone

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in America. The risk of injury and fatality is high, and it is one of the few industries in which family members, who live and work on-site, are also at risk.1

In an effort to help protect interests and minimize losses, we recommend that farmers make a three-word commitment to themselves, their families and friends – don’t work alone. This pledge requires planning and discipline, but consistent adherence can help prevent severe injury and death.

The risks

Family farm operations typically do not have federal oversight, which can tempt farmers to cut corners. Farmers put themselves at grave risk when they perform hazardous tasks alone, disregarding safety guidelines that require two or more workers, such as grain bin entry.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fatalities among agricultural workers rose 22% in 2015, while fatalities among farm workers and laborers in crop, nursery and greenhouse operations rose 33% - matching the highest rate ever reported (in 2010) for that occupational group.2 The Star Tribune’s 2015 article, “Deadliest Workplace: The Farm,” details several heartbreaking tragedies due to working alone and ignoring other safety guidelines.3

Entering a grain bin or other confined space should be at the top of the list of tasks to never do alone. Grain engulfment can happen in seconds and getting out without assistance is almost impossible. According to a study by Purdue University, grain entrapments were the most common type of confined space incident in 2015. More than half of the grain entrapments resulted in fatalities.4

Grain bin hazards aren’t limited to grain entrapment or grain engulfment. See other grain bin hazards.

Our recommendation

We strongly recommend that farmers strictly follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) grain handling standards and safe-work procedures for grain bin entry. These guidelines are essential components of commercial grain handling facilities and they can afford the same safety benefits to grain farmers.

Also, farmers should strive to take advantage of new grain handling and storage technologies whenever possible. Innovative solutions, such as electronic monitoring and control systems or products that break up grain clumps, can help reduce the need for grain bin entry.

Planning ahead

It requires determination to avoid working alone when job duties seem urgent and no one is available to assist with grain handling duties. However, nothing is worth compromising safety, even if it means postponing certain activities until someone else is present.

Farm operations require significant planning, from financial and marketing to agronomic and daily job duties. Developing a plan to help ensure no one works alone should be equally important. It plays a critical role in helping create a safe work environment and can help provide farmers with resources for assistance.

Labor resource plan

The first step is to develop a labor resource plan. Your plan should list key individuals, such as family members, friends and current or potential employees, that can assist with grain handling duties. Their role would be simple, but tremendously important – to be present during hazardous activities, assist when needed and help ensure no one works alone.

The next step is to make sure the individuals receive proper grain safety training. This can be provided on-site or with the assistance of local resources, such as coops, university or extension services and agricultural organizations.

Additionally, farmers will need to discuss an efficient communication strategy with the individuals listed on their labor resource plan. This should be tested for effectiveness.

The labor resource plan will need to be updated routinely, utilizing experience, evolving levels of training and team feedback, to create the most effective plan possible for your unique operation. This will require more time in the initial phases, but it will set a plan in motion that can help equip farmers to keep their commitment to not work alone.

The benefits       

Making the decision to not work alone is a significant step toward a safer operation. Utilizing a labor resource plan including trained individuals can help enable farmers to enjoy the benefits of grain farming while helping minimize the risk of serious bodily injury or death during hazardous tasks. 

[1] “Agricultural Safety.” NIOSH, Division of Safety Research. December 15, 2014.

[2] “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2015.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. December 16, 2016.

[3] “Deadliest Workplace: The Farm.” Star Tribune. October 4, 2015.

[4] “Purdue study: Fewer grain entrapments reported in 2015.” Purdue University. February 23, 2016.

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