In the wake of three people dying inside a Centre County farm silo Wednesday morning, we asked experts about the common dangers associated with working inside silos. Law enforcement officials say silo gas caused the three deaths.
Douglas Braff spoke with agriculture experts on Wednesday about this.
In total happenstance, these three silo deaths came the same week as this year’s national farm safety and health week.
“So, farming is very dangerous in general,” Chris Houser, the assistant director of agronomy and natural resources programs at Penn State Extension Silos are just one part of that.”
According to the most recent farm fatality data, from Penn State Extension, 2021 saw 16 reported deaths related to agriculture in Pennsylvania. That’s down from 39 in 2020.
Nonetheless, the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety says “the agricultural sector is still the most dangerous in America.”
The Center adds that the autumn harvest can be “one of the busiest and most dangerous seasons of the year” for the sector, which is why the third week of September is Safety and Health Week. They cite 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that there were 23.1 deaths per 100,000 agricultural workers.
But officials from Penn State Extension and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau said that silos present unique dangers especially silo gas, the very thing officials say caused Wednesday morning’s silo deaths.
“And usually a lot of times, in the fall and if, especially a drought year, for some reason when that silo or that corn silo starts to go through a fermentation process it’ll give off a sulfur-type gas and usually it can be light or you can actually see a yellow gas coming out of the chute of the silo.”
Centre County is one of several in Pennsylvania that have been under a “drought watch” from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“The nitrogen, is more concentrated in that corn currently And it builds up in the silo during the normal fermentation process. And it sort of just lays in that silo if it’s not properly ventilated, and it can just compound there. And if someone enters that space, there’s not enough oxygen for them to breathe.”
But how can farmers prevent these deadly situations going forward?
“The biggest danger, is that first week after filling the silo, after that last silage is put in. If farmers can stay out of that for the first week, that’s great.”
Houser also emphasized that “we really need to ventilate those silos when anybody’s entering them.”
Ebert pointed out that one person should be outside the silo who “can react rather quickly to a situation.”