Safety…what comes to your mind when you hear that word depends on the paradigm through which you view life.  We all have an experience, a story, or a recollection about an “incident” that has impacted our life.  What is your safety story?  How did it impact you?

On October 7, 1992, my safety story changed abruptly when on the way home from a long day of soil testing, my Ford Ranger pickup ran squarely into the rear tire of a grain trailer at a blind country intersection.  By God’s grace, my life was spared; but I can still recite the six things that if any one of them had not occurred, I would not be writing this today.  At the same time, my life view of life, safety, driving in the country, and a whole lot more was changed forever.

I have friends and acquaintances who have not been so fortunate.  Sadly, most of us do.  As harvest approaches, the most dangerous time of the year around the farm and agri-business, we cannot forget the lessons we have learned regarding keeping ourselves, our co-workers, friends and families safe.

Bob Marlow, long-time grain operations professional and friend, has some poignant insights on grain bin safety to share.  Grain bins are just one of the dangers in agriculture, and each year, they claim far too many lives. Listen to his story in the following:

No More Grain Drownings

I lost a friend recently. Rescuers found his body in a grain storage tank, along with another worker, totally engulfed in grain. They drowned in the grain and died of asphyxiation…. Out of respect for the families, coworkers and others involved, I’m not going to go into specifics about this incident.  Sadly, I must say this isn’t the first friend I’ve lost to this type of totally preventable incident. And if something doesn’t change, it WILL HAPPEN AGAIN AND AGAIN

In my 40+ years in the grain handling industry, I’ve lost too many friends, coworkers and colleagues. Others in the industry have experienced the same. Three of my friends lost their lives drowning in grain. They died horrible deaths of suffocation. That’s all I’m going to say.

Statistics show that on average, 18 to 20 deaths per year occur due to engulfment in grains, and over 80% are due to grain that has spoiled…  Corn is the grain most closely associated with, and tied to engulfment deaths, both on farms and in commercial storage operations…

In this case as in way too many others, most all of these are PREVENTABLE.  The OSHA investigation will tell us what happened.  But nothing changes.  The scenario I present above is for dramatization, and I have no information regarding this incident, but I have seen more than my fair share of these “work conditions” in my career.

However, for me, what is at the heart of this article and what I really want to talk about and the driving force in my sharing this… THIS WAS PREVENTABLE.  End of Story.  IF the industry really wants to stop the majority of such incidents, they could… People are senselessly still dying. There has been progress, but not enough.  It’s time for a Change, no more grain drownings!

I would suggest we start with the following:

1: SAFETY: Regulations must be tightened and extended across the Industry.

2: TECHNOLOGIES: Robotics, quality monitoring, standardization, best practices and more.

3: USDA GRAIN GRADE STANDARDS:  Standards today are skewed for ease of merchandising. Incentives should be for quality.

4: Marketing: Remove the incentive to store “out of condition” grains.

5: Farm Policy:  Current policy encourages “over production “.

6: Training: Continue current efforts.

Please don’t think of me as some half-crazed nut. I’m talking about an industry that fed and clothed my family, and after 40+ years, I retired in 2015. I worked for one of the very best and highly respected commercial grain companies in the Industry.  I’m a consultant now, specializing in education and training in the same Industry. I have many friends who continue to work there, and I think of them as my family…

I have attended too many funerals… It is not acceptable to wait until January 1, to reset the death counter to zero, hoping the next 12 months will be better.  Hope is not a strategy…  Action is.