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Coalition addresses grain safety

In a three-week period in
the summer of 2010, seven people died in grain bin engulfments in the Midwest.
This tragic loss of life led to the formation of the Grain Handling Safety
Coalition (GHSC), a consortium of public and private organizations who hope to
work together to reduce or prevent grain bin accidents and fatalities through
education and outreach.

“I was contacted by a number of different organizations when two young men from
Mt. Carroll died in a grain engulfment in late July,” said Robert Aherin, a
professor and Extension agricultural safety specialist at the University of
Illinois. “In addition, Catherine Rylatt, the aunt of one of the young men
killed in the accident, called me. Catherine has a public health degree, and
she understands some of the basic issues. She felt a real need to educate
others about grain bin safety.”

Aherin and Rylatt are now two members of the 15-member coalition that includes
representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA);
the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); the Grain
Feed Association of Illinois (GFA); the Farm Bureau; the University of
Illinois; the University of Iowa; Purdue University; Illinois FFA; Carle
Hospital’s Center for Rural Health and Farm Safety; Illinois Farm Service
Agency; and the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“Our initial intent was to get to know one another and learn what each group
was doing in the area of grain safety,” said Aherin, “then try to consolidate
our resources to address areas of weakness. That’s already started to happen.”

An example of that cooperation came late last year, when OSHA and the GFA
worked together to train OSHA inspectors in grain handling systems. 

“We are also developing public service announcements that will inform the
public of the coalition and its goals, as well as address specific issues
related to grain bin safety,” he said.

Aherin said the coalition hopes to reach the areas of population that have the
greatest need - farmers, small elevator owners, and the people they employ. “Older
youth and seasonal workers employed during the busy time of year need to
understand the risk that is inherent in working in grain bins.”

Future plans for the coalition include a website on grain safety that will give
the farming community access to training resources, publications and links to
the different organizations involved in the coalition. 

Aherin said there is interest in a national convention that would focus on issues
of grain safety and agricultural confined spaces in general. Aherin is a member
of a committee sponsored by the USDA that is focused on agricultural safety and
health research and extension work. That committee has compiled a list of 13
priorities, and one of the priorities they are currently addressing is
agricultural confined spaces.

“We are working on a white paper, and our hope is to collaborate with other
groups (like the GHSC) to hold a national conference that will bring in
researchers, educators and policy makers to look at where we are and where we
need to be.  

“There is also a real need to improve the safety design of grain bins,” Aherin
said. “We’ve been working on issues of grain safety for a long time and we’ve
reached a lot of people, but we need to reach more,” he concluded. “The
procedures we are trying to teach take a little longer, but with such
significant risk involved, you have to take the time to do it right. From a
safety standpoint, you really have no other choice.”

Leanne Lucas, University of
Illinois

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