September 24, 2023

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of the report. The introduction was published in the Aug. 31 issue of Agri-View. Part 1 was published in the Sept. 7 issue of Agri-View; part 2 was published in the Sept. 14 issue of Agri-View.

The Purdue University-Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department has since the 1970s been documenting and investigating incidents involving grain-storage and handling facilities at both commercial and on-farm locations. With support from a U.S. Department of Labor Susan Harwood Training Grant, the effort was expanded in 2013 to document additional types of incidents. 

Agricultural-waste incidents recorded

Injuries and fatalities involving agricultural-waste storage and handling facilities, transport equipment and other livestock-waste-related operations have been monitored as part of Purdue’s Agricultural Confined Spaces-related Incident Database. These operations include anaerobic digesters, bio-gas generators and other confined spaces used to store and process waste. Currently, about 505 related fatalities or serious injuries have been documented in the database.

Findings gathered between 1975 and 2021 were summarized in 2021. The summary analyzed a total of 409 incidents involving 486 individuals, out of which 288 – 59 percent – were fatal. Of the total, 85 percent of these victims were male. Their average age was 37, remarkably younger than the average age of U.S. farmers. This indicates that youth and less-experienced farmers were more prone to agricultural-waste-related incidents. The most frequently identified incidents involved underground and underfloor manure-storage facilities, above-ground manure-storage tanks, sump pits, ponds, lagoons, manure digesters, and manure-transport vehicles such as portable tankers, applicators and spreaders. Fifty-three of the incidents, or approximately 11 percent of all cases documented. involved multiple victims.

Historically there were 11 injuries and fatalities documented in 2020 related to livestock waste, out of which five – 45 percent – were reported as fatal. The number of cases documented in 2021 jumped to 13 incidents involving 16 individuals or cases. Of these cases, 12 were fatal – 75 percent. This doubled the number of fatalities documented in 2020.

In 2022, 11 incidents involving 11 individuals were documented. Out of the 11, eight cases were fatal – 73 percent. All the victims were male, including a 16-year-old youth. The ages of four of the victims were undetermined. The oldest victim was age 74. Three of these incidents occurred in Wisconsin, and two in California. The states of Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Indiana, Maryland and Pennsylvania each reported one case in 2022. In addition, there were eight non-fatal roadway-collision incidents involving livestock-waste-transport vehicles.

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The most frequently identified activity causing injuries or fatalities in 2022 was performing maintenance tasks in or around manure-storage structures, such as pump repairs or service. This has been the most frequent activity identified with all cases documented since 1975.

Figure 9 shows the annual distribution of all documented cases during the past 46 years. It partially reflects more-aggressive surveillance efforts, an increased exposure to larger-capacity agricultural-waste storage and handling facilities, and increased use of confined livestock-production operations. The upward trend, especially the greater number of incidents after 2015 should, however, be of concern.

Figure 10 provides a geographic distribution of the 510 cases documented between 1975 and 2022 nationwide by state. The concentration closely parallels production levels of both dairy and swine. Based on a previous analysis of epidemiologic injury data, dairy operations were found to historically have more incidents than swine facilities.

In summary, continued attention should be given to the risks associated with occupational agricultural-waste storage, handling and transport injuries – including drowning, falling, suffocating, entanglement in machinery, and the potential for fires and explosions involving biogases.

Out-of-condition grain problematic

As found by Kingman almost 20 years ago, there is a direct relationship between the probability of an entrapment in grain and the presence of out-of-condition or spoiled grain. For many years the term “flowing grain” was used to identify the entrapment hazards associated with grain storage and handling, when in fact it is non-flowing grain that poses the greatest risk. Almost all cases examined in 2022, in which adequate details were available, involved grain that was non-flowing due to spoilage. Contributing factors included attempting to store grain at moisture-content levels of more than 14 percent, improper in-bin drying practices such as rewetting grain using moist outside air, and leaks in the structure that allowed moisture to have access to dry grain. In other words, far more grain-related entrapments could have been prevented – and lives saved – by promoting proper storage techniques than could be achieved with providing training on emergency-grain-rescue strategies.

Researchers are Yuan-Hsin Cheng, ag safety and health researcher; Mahmoud Nour, post-doctoral researcher; Bill Field, professor; Kingsly Ambrose, associate professor; Edward Sheldon, research associate; all with the Purdue University-Agricultural Safety and Health Program in West Lafayette, Indiana. Visit for more information.

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