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SPOTLIGHT: Confined Spaces

SPOTLIGHT: Confined Spaces

JUNE 2021

OSHA defines a confined space as having “limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.”

Confined spaces on farms can include grain bins, forage storage silos, liquid storage tanks, manure storage facilities and transport vehicles.  Purdue University’s Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department has been documenting grain bin storage incidents since the 1970s. In 2013, they expanded these efforts to the documentation and investigation of a variety of confined space-related incidents along with manure handling and transportation-related incidents.

Between 1962 and 2020, there have been a reported 2,404 cases resulting in an injury, fatality, or that required emergency extrication by first responders.

The goals of these reports are to “reduce the frequency and severity of these incidents by maintaining focus on the problem and providing data to develop evidence-based prevention strategies.” Grain storage and handling facilities account for the most cases, with manure storage and handling totaling the second largest number of incidents. You will also find information on new grain bin safety standards, as well as observations on current safety training of workers and emergency first responders.

Bill Field, professor at Purdue University, suggests that now is the time to reassess how we move forward with health and safety in relation to grain bin and confined-space related incidents in order to reduce injuries. With an emphasis on prevention, he proposes resources might be better suited for prevention methods like maintaining grain quality, reducing the need to enter grain storage, educating young workers, and more.

With areas of the Midwest typically ranking highest in case numbers, learning how to prevent confined space-related incidents on the farm is of the utmost importance. Below you will find the report, and some significant statistics from 2020’s data.


Purdue University:

2020 Summary of U.S. Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries

2020 Summary:

2020 Summary of U.S. Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries


Prevention Methods and Practices for Confined Spaces

  • Maintaining grain quality
  • Reducing need to enter grain storage
  • Educating young workers
  • Avoiding working alone
  • Air monitoring
  • Use of proper PPE (varies depending on confined space)
  • Use harnesses when necessary

Notable Highlights, 2020:

  • No fewer than 64 fatal and non-fatal cases involving agricultural confined spaces were documented in 2020, representing a 4.5% decrease over 2019 > However, the number of this year’s total confined space-related cases was well above the 5-year average (61.2 cases/year), and above the 10-year average (60.9 cases/year)
  • Illinois reported the most cases in 2020 (17), which was more than double the next two highest reporting states, Minnesota and North Dakota
  • Illinois also reported the most grain-entrapment cases in 2020 (10). Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois have historically recorded the most grain entrapment cases 
  • There were no fewer than 35 grain related entrapments in 2020 representing a 7.9% decrease over 2019, with the balance of grain related incidents involving entanglements and falls
  • OSHA Regions 5 and 7 have historically accounted for nearly 70% of all documented agricultural confined space-related incidents (Midwestern states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa are within those regions)