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Farm workers face serious accident risk in silos

Working on a farm can be a great learning experience for New Jersey teens who are interested in agriculture as a career path, and is a way of life for many families. However, modern farms are filled with complex heavy machinery and other types of hazards that can lead to serious risks. Among those risks is the danger of working in a grain silo, which can put workers in danger of a grain avalanche that can trap them beneath thousands of pounds of grain.

Farm workers are generally aware of the danger of entering a silo but say that they often have to do it as a part of their job. Employers are also well aware of the dangers of going into the silos, but insist that workers do the dangerous job anyways. Experts and safety activists agree that many farm owners and workers are undereducated about the safety precautions that they can take to prevent these types of accidents and often do not have the equipment or training to accomplish the task without risk of a grain avalanche.

Farm accidents in general have been decreasing in recent years, but accidents in silos have become more frequent as demand for corn and other grains for feed and ethanol has grown and farms are generating more grain.

Recently, wrongful death victims have been much younger workers, who are instructed to “walk the corn” to loosen it, which farm safety experts say no one should ever do because it is so dangerous.

One major reason why teens are so vulnerable to this type of workplace accident is that federal labor laws governing farms have not been updated since the 1960s. A recent proposal to increase protections for children and teens working on farms that would have made it illegal for people under 18 to work in commercial grain bins failed to become law in the face of harsh opposition from the farm lobby.

Workers who are victims of grain silo accidents that are preventable and that result from known hazards on the farm may be able to recover in a civil action. Families of wrongful death victims can also pursue a claim in court and ask for monetary damages and pursue claims against any other responsible parties such as equipment manufacturers.

Source: New York Times, “Silos Loom as Death Traps on American Farms,” John M. Broder, Oct. 28, 2012.

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