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Work accident: Harvest time poses confined space hazards on farms

Harvest season in Missouri is approaching rapidly, and with it comes many safety hazards for farm workers. A fatal work accident can rock a farming community, and some of the most ignored hazards on farms are confined spaces. There are no federal safety regulations related to confined space safety management on farms. Although the dangers are similar to those in other industries, the issue is often disregarded by farm owners.

A significant percentage of farm fatalities is represented by grain bin deaths. Farm workers even admit to complacency, saying they have entered grain bins on many occasions with nothing ever having gone wrong. However, engulfment can happen in a split second. Furthermore, the natural reaction of a family member or co-worker who sees a worker being engulfed by grain is to jump in and help -- often with tragic consequences. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration say the number of would-be rescuers who lose their lives in confined space accidents on farms is as high as 60 percent.

Another great danger concerns the atmospheric hazards of confined spaces in which toxic gases have replaced the oxygen. These gases can originate from chemical reactions, fermentation, oxidation or decomposition. Workers may think avoiding breathing will keep them safe for a few minutes, but toxic gases can cause instant death. Other hazardous conditions related to confined spaces on farms include maintenance on machinery that may not provide easy access, exposing workers to blades, gears, belts, shafts and electrical parts.

For these reasons, Missouri farm owners may benefit from developing safety standards related to confined spaces and thereby avoid a preventable fatal work accident. Although it is true that no amount of money can replace a loved one, the financial relief offered by the workers' compensation insurance program may ease some of the financial burdens that typically arise in these tragic circumstances. Benefits typically cover the costs of a funeral and burial along with some level of compensation to covered dependents for lost income.

Source: agriview.com, "Busting the myths behind farm confined spaces", Mary Bauer, Sept. 17, 2015

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