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Harvest Moon

Due east of the mighty Mississippi River, a serene July night consumed the sullied goldenrod fields of Mt. Carroll, IL. as two lifeless teenage boys were pulled from a stainless steel Illinois grain bin. They were Wyatt Whitebread, 14 and Alejandro Pacas, 19.

According to OSHA reports, the two boys were “walking-down-the-corn”, creating flow for grain emptying machinery, when the kernels suddenly assumed the nature of quicksand below Wyatt’s feet. The 8th grader began sinking. Pacas and a third boy, Will Piper, 20, rushed to Whitebread’s safety; however the rescuers encountered the same fate of young Wyatt Whitebread: all three boys slowly sank. A fourth boy, Chris Lawton, 15, lunged for the side ladder and hustled up-and-out of the bin; inhaling large gulps of summer morning air in his dead sprint for help.

Meanwhile, the eyes of Whitebread and Pacas disappeared below the surface of the trembling grain leaving Will Piper to sink alone. Thousands of kernels engulfed Piper’s thighs, hips, stomach and chest before the grain, now level with his neckline, came to a halt. Treading a sea of corn, he kept his head above the surface in a struggle to escape drowning. He succeeded; the machinery halted; and Piper waited. He waited six hours before being pulled out of the pit, rushed to a hospital and treated for minor injuries.

And still it was six more hours before thirty-eight firefighters finally bore witness to the harvest’s victims: two teenagers, one underage for silo employment, both without harnesses.

The boys were employed to walk the surface of the unstable crop without harnesses, safety lines or proper training. Those essentials would have prevented what OSHA has deemed an “easily avoidable tragedy” from happening. It would have prevented unquantifiable grief and unimaginable pain for the friends, family, and community of the teens. And yet this story isn’t unique. Unfortunately, agricultural cities across the country have experienced the same trials and tribulations.

2010 was one of the deadliest years for granary accidents:

A Purdue University report showed [there were] 51 grain bin accidents last year, up from 38 in 2009 and the most since tracking began in 1978. Twenty-five people died, and five of them were children under age 16. The previous record for grain bin accidents was 42 in 1993. (Crumb,

The rise of silo fatalities is disconcerting in America’s current golden age of “Safety First” discourse because it implies a certain degree of indifference towards employee health. The complacency with current practices, “We’ve done it this way for years and nobody’s ever even cracked a knuckle”, is proof that the message is not getting through; deliberate inaction is far worse than general ignorance, but neither should ever be condoned.

And so it is only true that the escalation of fatal incidents will not cease until we sensibly acknowledge the inflexible tragedies of the past and strive forth equipped with the knowledge to ensure comprehensive employee protection: hopefully the perplexity of silenced youth provides clarity for that future.

Accompanying this message is VSI’s free 7 Point Silo Safety Flyer that highlights OSHA’s guidelines for safe silo practices. Please print one for your silo employees, or pass this on to someone who may need it.

Thank you.

We’re not your average Fall Protection company.

We’re Versatile Systems, Inc. Average doesn’t work here.


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