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NY Times Diatribe On Bin Safety

It's always interesting to see what outsiders say about procedures in agricutlure.  It's particularly interesting to note they feel qualified to judge us, without having stood in our shoes or walkedin our footsteps. Here is a New York Times article that is long on emotion and short  understanding.  It is the common reaction of "pass a new law" which is not appropriate to the situation.  Then people wonder why we ignore laws.

The resistance of the ag community to these over-reaching rules is entirely appropriate.

Back when I was young, it was common to see men with a hook instead of an arm because they thought they could free a corn stalk faster than a snapping roll could pull it in.  They couldn't.  Some lost two hands as they tried to save one.  Education and different equipment changed that.  You virtually never see a farmer with a hook caused by a snapping roll anymore.  First we know better.  Secondly, up in the combine cab your first reaction is not to get down, walk around a 6 or 12 row head and pull the offending plug out.  Thirdly, there is a reverser on the gathering chains.  Last night I had half a dozen plugs in downed corn and didn't have to get out of the combine to clear any of them.

Grain bins and silos have been around for a long time in agricultural production and on the family farm.  Bins are getting increasingly popular on the farm and are getting bigger and more automated.  Farmers are learning a lot about how to operate them safely and effectively.

The way to stop deaths in bins and silos is to prevent the circumsntances from happening that cause people to do dangerous things in them.  If you dry the corn or soybeans properly and have a good unloading system, the grain won't bridge and you never have to get in to dislodge it.  When grain is allowed to cake or bridge, you are setting the stage for trouble.

It's not in any farmer's interest to have someone hurt in any way.  Laws that are viewed as intrusive and inappropriate don't stop people for taking certain actions.  All it means is that after a family loses a son or daughter to an accident, the government comes in and fines them so much they also lose the farm.  why don't you just take them out and shoot them?

Farming is increasingly a solitary occupation.  I know nearly as many older men farming alone as I do families farming.  These older men are going to use caution but they are not going to call in their neightbor to hold a rope while they get into a grain bin to fix a bad wire on a stirring machine.  Just another law made to be broken.  Glad we stopped it in time.



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24 Replies
Senior Advisor

Re: NY Times Diatribe On Bin Safety

I had a young lad working for me to clean out a grain bin. Unfortunately, he stepped into an open sump and he was spared because of a pipe that spanned the sump. It just gave me the willies because I am the last person that would want to see a 16 year old lad mangled in a grain auger.


The grownups have the responsibility to see that correcty safety practices are observed when adolescent labor is involved. Under no circumstance should ayoungster be in a bin with bridged over grain. It's a high risk situation even for adults.


I don't know that I would advocate stricter laws but I would encourage adults to consider the risk of youngsters in bins and they do need supervision by adults.


It was after that event that I bought a grain vac as I didn't want people in a bin with a grain sweep.

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Frequent Contributor

Re: NY Times Diatribe On Bin Safety

 Why are we sending 18-year-olds to work ALONE in a grain bin?

The death of the 14-year-old and 19-year-old in Illinois cited

in the NY Times article is a sad case in point.


The proposed federal regulations regarding youths were aimed

at protecting vulnerable young Hispanic children and teens ---

not at preventing the children of farmers from working on

family farms. Some of the regulations were impractical. But

there should have been a way to forge a compromise on that

issue, for the sake of the kids.


As a farm kid who grew up to became the wife of a farmer, and

mother of two children raised on the farm, I find it difficult to accept

that this is "the culture," and no one should question it.


--Cheryl Tevis, SF




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Honored Advisor

Re: NY Times Diatribe On Bin Safety

There will always be accidents in everything humans's a statistical certainty, with some rates of mishaps being higher than others.  Some activites just pose more critical points to make wrong moves or bad decisions. 


I have always considered it a large part of my job to ferret out danger points, then figure out ways to eliminate them.  We did a farm safety assessment recently, and got a passsing score. 


Most of the things noted as lacking referred to things we would not need to do anyway, because of our work schedules and habits...for example, lighting on tractors that do not go on highways or work after dark.  Honestly, I think habits trump equipment as safety protection any day. 


Some things referred to needed putting an extra fire extinguisher in the hay barn....I have posted "No Smoking" signage all over, but there are other potential fire causes, so that's a valid point. 


Most times someone gets hurt, they are pushing the limits or breaking a rule of some sort.  They have removed a guard from a PTO, or decided that the problem they are trying to solve requires a life-threatening responce. 


I once stood between my husband and the door, and said, "There is no way you are taking a chance on your life, to go and drag a 15-year-old car out of a shed 25 feet from a burning house and a 500-gallon propane tank."  His family had called to say the homeplace was on fire, and his aunt's old Fury was near the flames.  They wanted him to bring a tractor and chain, and pull it out. 


He looked at me, sat down and said, "You're right."  He's done a couple of oither things that were just as dumb (which he admits in retrospect),but at least I got him to think twice that night.  . 

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Re: NY Times Diatribe On Bin Safety

Thank you, Cheryl.


If nothing else, let's take it down to the bottom line.


If I was a juror who was asked to decide on a civil case where a farmer had sent an underage employee into a bin without sufficient supervision and training my only question would be, "why don't you throw a few more million on it?" (I don't think you actually get to ask that but I'd give 'em what they asked).


If it was a family member and thus I was a juror in a criminal trial, I'd vote to convict and go for the maximum.



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Honored Advisor

Re: NY Times Diatribe On Bin Safety

But that is not the question.


Does foolish tragedy justify a law that prevents children from doing "work" as defined by a legislature or a nonfarm labor organization?  How long til we outlaw solid food for fear of choking, because we can document tragic deaths every year?




Do we think a family becomes criminal if a teenager chooses to do something they are told not to do?  Do we really think a farmer would send an underage employee into a high risk death trap?  Is there wisdom in beating someone to death with a court system for making a terrible mistake?


Are child labor laws just another nail in the "family farm" coffin?

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Re: NY Times Diatribe On Bin Safety

If it is the culture then the culture needs to change. It isn't a 1000 bushel bin or slat crib any more- it is just as often a 50,000 bushel bin.


There are ways to get it done without putting a kid in the bin and there are things that kids can do on the farm that are age appropriate.



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Re: NY Times Diatribe On Bin Safety

A kid also doesn't belong behind the wheel of a grain semi, pulling NH3 tanks on the road, running a high cap sprayer or tender truck. Other things, I'm sure. 

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Changing the culture

I've seen fatal  farm accidents that were egregiously avoidable. In the cases where it was hired labor the insurance company paid sufficiently enough that the farm continued.


If you really want to change culture, have folks standing around bidding at the farm sale- that will change culture real fast.


Scary stuff, though.  I've said before, I'm proud that I've never had a serious accident on my watch although I can cite a couple of instances where I was lucky. 


But I really can't get there as far as shieiding the bad actors becasue there might be some theoretical threat or inconvenience to me.

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25 Deaths.

"Record number of grain bin fatalities in 2010; OSHA cites employers

A Purdue University report revealed that 2010 was the deadliest year in decades for grain bin fatalities. According to a Bloomberg story by Michael J. Crumb, the report indicated there were "51 grain bin accidents last year, up from 38 in 2009 and the most since tracking began in 1978. Twenty-five people died, and five of them were children under age 16. The previous record for grain bin accidents was 42 in 1993.""


25 people died in the grain bin accidents in 2010.  That is a high number year.


Of course, any unnecessary death is a tragedy and these were all unnecessary.  But we have OSHA and other branches of governmenbt wnating put laws into place to deal with 25 deaths, and these were in different categories.  Some were in big plants and some on family farms.  How would you enforce these laws?  How many people would it take, how much productivity would be lost and how many businesses affected and to what degree?  At some point, we have to say we'll accept the risk.


What would be acceptable and what cost is worth paying?   Insurance companies have a big say in safety practices.  Education and equipment changes stopped the corn picker from taking hands off.  


There are plenty of laws on the books right now to charge people with child endangerment and other crimes if they unnecessarily or unreasonably expose their child to risk.


How do you enforce laws at the family farm level?  You don't.  some will follow the law, some will not even no it exists and some will scoff at it.  Do you try to entice a child to turn the father in?  Do you have surpirse inspections of farms each fall and winter?  Do you pay for snitches at grain elevators or funeral homes?


For the last ten years, New York City, the base of the newspaper this article is written in, has had an average of 494 homicides per year.  The reporters could have done more good by joining the New York City police force than they could by writing an article  trying to reduce the number of grain bin deaths.  Why don't they focus on NYC crime?  Because they are used to it and tolerate it but they are not used to the risks of farming and think they should speak out about it.


25 deaths is a tragedy but it is not a reason for the intrusions of unenforceable laws into the family farm, and by that I also mean the extended family farm as exemplified by work swapping amon neighbors and other than immediate family.


I don't care what laws they pass about Cargill and the local co-op.   Those peope are already strongly influenced by insurance company edicts, anyway.  will a law make it better or simply provide the government more jobs and a way to fine them when they're caught?


Education and better equipment is the answer to these kinds of problems, not laws and outsider interference.