Illinois has a prominent position within the Midwest farm belt, with high production of corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, oats and sorghum. With such high grain yields, farm and agricultural employees who work with grain are at risk of serious injury and even death from grain-related accidents.
Focus on grain safety
In recognition of vocational risks to grain workers nationally, the Stand Up for Grain Safety Alliance sponsors Stand Up for Grain Safety Week April 13-17 this year. The Alliance – which includes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and private partners – encourages agricultural employers to communicate with their employees about “hazards found in grain handling and storage environments and reinforcing the importance of safety while working around grain,” according to the event website.
Many of these hazards to workers lurk within grain bins as well in other areas of grain-handling systems. For example:
- Engulfment and entrapment: Walking on top of clumped grain to increase its flow or for other reasons can cause a worker to be buried in seconds under quickly flowing grain, which could cause suffocation, crushing or worse.
- Falls: Grain workers are at risk of falling from elevated surfaces, ladders, catwalks or high structures.
- Electrocution: Electric shock or electrocution may occur if a portable auger comes in contact with an overhead powerline near a grain bin or in another area of a grain-handling system.
- Dust explosions: Grain dust in a confined area may fuel an explosion when an ignition source like a cigarette, electrical source or spark from machinery is present, especially at grain transfer areas.
- Machinery entanglement: Farm workers may become entangled in heavy machinery and equipment, especially augers, which may cause injury to or loss of limbs, crushing injuries or death.
- Toxic air: Workers can be seriously injured when they breath air in grain bins or silos containing dangerous gases from grain decay or mold, or from insecticides. Toxic grain-bin air can cause heart disease, cancer, damage to the nervous system and more.
Workers’ compensation, SSDI and SSI
Federal and state work safety regulations tightly regulate grain production workplaces, requiring specific best practices and protective equipment. Whether an Illinois ag employer is in compliance with safety requirements or not and regardless of whether anyone was at fault in causing a particular grain employee’s work-related injury or illness, that worker should immediately file a workers’ compensation claim for financial, medical and other supports.
The survivors of such a worker who died from a grain-related injury or illness should investigate filing a claim for Illinois workers’ compensation death benefits.
Should the worker’s injury or disease be expected to last at least a year or result in death, they may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). An attorney can advise an injured grain employee or the surviving dependents of such a person about potential legal remedies and benefits that may be available.