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NCL: Grain silos are death traps on farms; Efforts to protect workers, especially teens, must be stepped up

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For release: October 30, 2012
Contact: Reid Maki, (703) 801-3338, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Washington, DC--Yesterday’s New York Times story “Silos Loom As Death Traps on Farms” stands as a stark reminder that U.S. and state governments must do more to protect workers, toiling in dangerous workplaces. “The Times piece by reporter James Broder highlights several teen worker deaths and violent injuries suffered by teens in agricultural grain facilities,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League (NCL) and a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition, 28 organizations committed to protecting children from exploitative or dangerous work. “Unfortunately, last April, the Obama Administration, under intense pressure from the farm lobby, withdrew regulations that would have protected teens from the dangers associated with work in agriculture, including these very dangerous facilities. Under the proposed rules, teens would not have been allowed to work in them.”

Each year, the National Consumers League (NCL) publishes an extensive report, The Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens. “Agriculture is by far the most dangerous industry that large numbers of teens are allowed to work in,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards. “Nearly 100 kids are killed performing hazardous farm work each year. The reality is that agricultural work for teens is extremely dangerous and no job is more dangerous than working in a grain facility.”

In 2010, 51 adult and teen workers became engulfed in grain during accidents at grain facilities. Twenty-six workers died, including Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alex Pacas, 19, whose deaths were described in the Times article. In August 2011, Oklahoma teens Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon, both 17, each lost a leg in a grain auger accident. This accident would have been prevented by the withdrawn safety rules. Since 2007, 14 teen boys have died in grain facility accidents.

In addition to the gruesome suffocation deaths noted in the Times article, workers at grain facilities are at great risk because of toxic and flammable gases produced by the grains. There have been more than 600 explosions at grain elevators, killing more than 250 people and injuring more than 1,000, over the past four decades, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

NCL asks that immediate steps be taken to protect works in facilities:

  • Teen work inside or on top of grain compartments and silos should be prohibited;
  • For adult workers, all identified mandatory protective measures, including the use of safety harnesses should be followed by facility owners;
  • No worker should enter when grain congeals and is “bridged” or “crusted” on the sides of the silo;
  • Air monitoring equipment should be in place to ensure air is breathable and hold no flammability danger;
  • All power equipment, including augurs and loaders, must be shut off before workers enter a silo;
  • An observer must monitor workers in silos at all times;
  • State and federal departments of labor should increase fines when violations occur. Current fine levels are insufficient to act as a deterrent.
  • Safety procedures should be implemented by the owners of small facilities, not covered by federal protections.

More than 150 groups supported the DOL’s proposed agricultural occupational child safety rules, which would have prohibited teen work in grain facilities. A list of those organizations can be found at  www.stopchildlabor.org.

About the National Consumers League: NCL, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.