Last year, the number of suffocation deaths in grain bins rose to an all-time high of 26 in Illinois and across the nation. Tragically, these industrial workers' accidents happen mainly to young men and boys -- one victim was just 7-years-old.
The accidents happen in grain bins when the grain clumps together or to the sides. In order to pull the grain apart, employees must crawl in with shovels or pickaxes so that augurs can pull the grain to the bottom of the bin. However, when the grain is freed, it can act like quicksand. Those caught in it can be quickly swallowed up, leading to suffocation.
In one incident in July 2010, a 14-year-old boy and a 19-year-old young man were caught in a corn bin they were trying to clear. However, despite the efforts of a third boy, the older of the two was killed. The other boy was rescued just in time. In that case, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed more than $500,000 in fines against the company that employed the two. However, the company is contesting the fines, saying that it has fewer than 10 employees and is therefore not subject to OSHA regulations.
That has proven to be the problem in many other incidents where the company is either too small to be subject to federal regulations and state laws or the accident happens on a family-owned farm. Nonetheless, worker's compensation benefits may now be available to the victims of industrial workers' accidents or to the family of the victim. New changes in workers' compensation laws in some states like Nebraska are providing means of recovery for the deceased workers' families.
Traditionally employers have been protected from lawsuits filed by the estates of the decedents, but a recent grain bin death in Nebraska is challenging that employer safety net. Recently the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the decision made by the lower court in the tragic death and in turn sent the case back down to the district court level to be reheard.
More and more agriculture companies are being forced to review and comply with safety measures that have been ignored or lacked consistent enforcement throughout Illinois. In securing these benefits, a thorough and extensive knowledge of Illinois worker's compensation law may prove invaluable resource for workers and/or their families who have endured a workplace injury or death.
Source: The Kansas City Star, "Number of suffocation deaths in grain bins is increasing," Mike McGraw, Nov. 25, 2011