NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The citation for the study mentioned in this article is: Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, 2(3):143-156
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Purdue University study of grain entrapments deaths over a 30-year period found that the average age of those killed in grain wagons was 11 years old.
That's just one of the grim statistics reported in the national study, which also found that children ages 2 to 16 have the highest frequency of grain entrapment deaths, accounting for 43 percent of all fatalities. Most of the victims were male.
Bill Field, co-author of the study and head of Purdue's Agricultural Safety and Health Program, says, "I'm not opposed to having children in and around farming operations, but parents need to know that children don't belong in grain-handling facilities or transport vehicles of any kind."
Grain entrapments typically occur when farmers enter grain bins to break up out-of-condition grain or to move grain from the sides to the center, so it will enter the flow, and get caught in the flow themselves, or when children riding on grain wagons tumble into the grain and get caught in the flow.
Purdue research shows that because of the speed at which the grain is moving, a person caught in the flow will be so engulfed in just 10 to 15 seconds that escape will be impossible.
"There are five or six reported deaths each year due to grain entrapment," Field says. "Actually, overall most deaths occur in grain bins, and the average age for those dying is 32. But during the harvest months, many of the deaths occur in grain wagons, and in the cases we examined, 29 of 39 people who died in wagons did so in either in October or November."
The 1996 Purdue study analyzed farm fatalities from 1964 to 1994. Data was obtained from the Purdue Farm Fatality Database, the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Safety Council, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, fatality reports from 46 states, and from mailings to 300 agricultural safety and health professionals.
From this pool of data, the Purdue researchers were able to identify 235 fatal grain entrapments. The study, which was published in the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, found that grain entrapments make up approximately 2 percent of the total annual farm deaths; the years with the highest number of grain entrapment deaths were 1986 (26) and 1993 (22).
The majority of the cases -- 79 percent -- involved shelled corn. This has more to do with the way corn is moved and stored on the farm than its physical properties, Field says, because both soybeans and wheat move through the holding facilities at a faster rate.
Using the data from the study, Field and the other researchers were able to glean a few risk factors that most often contributed to the deaths.
"The condition of the grain is the No. 1 risk factor," Field says. "If a farmer is unloading poor condition grain, it tends to clump together and stop flowing. The farmer goes in the bin to break up the clumps of grain -- without first turning off the unloading equipment -- and ends up getting caught in the flow.
"Ninety-two percent of those engulfed in a grain flow died. With a death rate this severe, it would be a lower risk to have a heart attack."
Although just 39 of the 235 fatal entrapments were in grain wagons, these deaths often receive national media coverage because they often involve small children, Field says. Deaths of children are most common in grain wagons, where 87 percent of those killed were under 15 years old.
In addition to keeping children away from grain wagons and bins, Field recommends removing external ladders that might allow children to climb into grain holding facilities on their own, and warning labels that let children know that they are not to play in the grain.
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