A new report from grain safety researchers at Purdue University says eight people died while trapped in grain last year, another steep drop from the record year of 2010, when 31 people lost their lives in grain bins and other grain storage facilities.
The continued decline in incidents since 2010 is credited to drier and smaller harvests since then. The grain stored in bins in 2010 was generally harvested wet and tended to spoil and clog. Workers and farmers went into bins to unclog grain and were trapped in a "quicksand" effect common in flowing grain.
When the Bartlett Grain Co. elevator exploded in Atchison, Kansas in October 2011, the town’s 11,000 residents knew it immediately. People who live miles away from the elevator still talk about pictures jumping off walls.
The night before he died, Wyatt Whitebread couldn't stand the thought of going back to the grain bins on the edge of Mount Carroll, Ill.
The mischievous and popular 14-year-old had been excited about his first real job, he told Lisa Jones, the mother of some of his closest friends, as she drove him home from a night out for pizza. But nearly two weeks later he told her he was tired of being sent into massive storage bins clogged with corn.
The commercial grain industry responded to a record number of grain entrapments and deaths in 2010 with more safety videos, publications and training programs.
"Have tragic incidents still happened? Yes," says Jeff Adkisson, who heads the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois. "Are we working to reduce them further? Absolutely."
Randy Gordon, president of the National Grain and Feed Association, sees no need for additional regulations. "The [occupational safety and health] standards, we think, are very adequate to address this danger," he says.