Two men die in grain bin accidents

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
In this May 30, 2019 photo provided by the Ross Township Fire Department rescue personnel shovel soybeans out of the bottom of a bin during an effort to rescue farmer Jay Butterfield, who was buried up to his neck inside. He became buried up to his neck while trying to break up clumps of soybeans in the bin on his farm in Ross Township, Ohio.

RUSK COUNTY – Two men are dead in two unrelated grain bin accidents this month.

According to the Rusk Rusk County Sheriff’s Office, a Glen Flora man died after he was pulled from a corn bin on Thursday, September 19.

The fatality occurred at the Sheldon Co-op in the Village of Sheldon. While Kevin Wiemer, 58, of Glen Flora was rescued from the corn bin, Sheriff Jeffrey Wallace says life-saving measures were unsuccessful. Wiemer was pronounced dead at the scene.

A 74-year-old Minnesota man also suffered the same fate after being trapped inside a grain bin on a farm in Faxon Township just west of Belle Plaine.

RELATED: Reducing preventable grain bin deaths

According to the Sibley County Sheriff’s Office, at about 3:12 p.m. on Sept. 10, officials received a report of a man trapped inside a grain bin. He was unloading soybeans on his farm and became trapped and engulfed in the soybeans.

Emergency crew workers cut open the side of the bin to empty the grain in an attempt to rescue victim Rodger Slater. He was later pronounced dead at the scene.


Each year rescue workers respond to 911 calls for someone entrapped in a grain storage facility.

Many accidents occur when farm workers try to break up a crust that forms over the top of the grain stored inside the bin.

"Grain bin accidents can tragically impact individuals, families and entire communities," said Brad Liggett, president of Nationwide Agribusiness.

Workers cut a hole in the side of a grain bin in order to rescue a man trapped inside. Similar tragedies could be prevented by following grain handling safety guidelines.

Grain storage

With grain prices at historic lows, more farmers are utilizing on-farm storage to capture higher prices or marketing opportunities later. And where storage capacity is scarce, farmers and co-ops are building large-capacity grain bins.

At the end of the day, farmers — sometimes young, inexperienced farmers — are dealing with an overflow of grain that must be properly maintained to prevent grain spoilage and other issues. Due in part to increases of on-farm storage and large-capacity bins, grain bin accidents are likely to increase if farmers and commercial grain handlers chose to ignore the hazards and safe-work practices and procedures.

The inside of a grain bin is not the place for taking short cuts. Grain bin safety starts with maintaining grain quality in storage. With proper aeration and cooling of stored grain, farmers and commercial grain handlers can help prevent the formation of clumps, crusts or grain bridges that can interfere with grain flow and lead to dangerous grain bin entry.

More often, grain bin accidents occur when untrained or inexperienced workers or family members enter a grain bin without following proper grain bin entry procedures, such as wearing a safety harness secured to a life line.

Preventing tragedy

Like quicksand, flowing grain can pull a 165-pound man down to waist level in seconds and bury him in less than a minute. Once grain gets above the knees, the amount of friction and pressure exerted on a person's body makes escape without assistance nearly impossible.

Developing a zero-entry mentality towards grain storage is the best practice to prevent deadly grain bin accidents.

Injuries & Fatalities: The Startling Facts

  • Suffocation from engulfment is a leading cause of death in grain bin accidents.
  • It takes only seconds to be completely engulfed in flowing grain or overcome by oxygen-deficient atmospheres.
  • 30 documented grain entrapments resulted in 15 deaths (50% fatality rate) in 2018, a 30% increase from 2017 when 23 were recorded.
  • In 2018, the state with the most documented grain entrapments, was Iowa with five cases total, followed by Kansas and Wisconsin, each with three.
  • The majority of grain entrapment cases - 83% - occurred in the Midwest.
  • Grain entrapments accounted for 49% of the documented cases of entrapments in confined spaces.

Source: 2018 Summary of U.S. Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries and Fatalities