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Families remember two teens who died in silo accident

July 13, 2010

[The Department of Labor is currently reviewing the agricultural hazardous orders. In 2002, NIOSH recommended expanding Hazardous Order #8 to prohibit all work in silos. If this recommendation is moved forward, teen workers in agriculture under 16 would be protected from silo dangers, which include suffocation and toxic gases . If the CARE Act were to pass and HO #8 is also enacted as recommended, then you would have to be 18 to work in a silo. ]

Families remember two teens who died in silo accident


July 13, 2010 5:53 PM
BARRY COUNTY, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – New details are emerging about a tragic silo accident that killed two teens on Monday night.

17-year-old Franscisco Martinez and 18-year-old Victor Perez were inside the silo at Yankee Springs Dairy when they lost consciousness, they were pronounced dead after being taken out of the silo.

Newschannel 3 spoke with family of the victims on Tuesday.

The families say Frascisco Martinez had worked at the dairy for just a few months, while Victor Perez had been there for about three years.

“All I can say is I miss my son,” said Victor’s father Jose Perez. “I miss my son, everywhere I look I see him.”

Jose Perez says the last time he spoke to his son was Saturday night.

“I told him, just be careful, be careful with what you do,” said Jose.

Jose says Victor had just graduated from Thornapple Kellogg High School and was working at the farm full-time, he had just purchased a truck that he was going to fix up.

“He was gonna fix it, he went to school to learn mechanic a little bit, we were gonna take it apart together on the weekend,” said Jose, “but he didn’t make it that far.”

Frascisco Martinez attended high school in Mexico, joining his mother in West Michigan just a few months ago. His grieving mother, Tomasa Martinez, spoke to Newschannel 3 through an interpreter.

“He was my son, he was very smart, he liked to study, he was happy to work at the farm,” said Tomasa.

The Barry County Sheriff says the teens were found dead inside a small yellow silo that contained a small amount of molasses-like mixture that is used in cow feed. The sheriff says the teens may have been overcome by fumes from the fermenting substance.

A safety officer from Michigan Occupational Health and Safety was on the scene Tuesday. Newschannel 3 has been told the investigation into the teen’s deaths could take weeks, if not months.

You can find more information about silo gas, which could have played a role in Monday’s deaths, here.

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Lynch Ryan’s weblog about workers’ compensation, risk management, business insurance, workplace health & safety, occupational medicine, injured workers, insurance webtools & technology and related topics

July 13, 2010

Two farmworking teens killed in silo; media is mystified

From Michigan, we learn the tragic news of the silo-related deaths of two teens on a farm. Victor Perez, 18, was a recent high school graduate who had worked on the farm for about 4 years. His co-worker Francisco Mendez Martinez, 17, had been on the job for about a month.

News reports are thin and shrouded in mystery. One refers to the fatalities as a “mishap” (talk about understatement) and quotes a local farmworker as saying that the teens “weren’t doing something particularly dangerous and they knew how to do it.” (Apparently wrong on both counts). Other stories portray this as “just a tragic accident” with authorities quoted as saying they might never be sure what happened because there were no witnesses.

We should really expect better reporting from media whose beat includes farm country. And if the news reports are correct, there is at least one other local farm worker who needs to be alerted to silo dangers and the quoted sheriff needs to take an EMT refresher course.

A cursory Google search on silo deaths will show that there’s nothing particularly mysterious about this “mishap” – unsupervised teen workers + confined space + silos + molasses storage – all should trigger red lights. The danger posed to teens of confined spaces in agriculture should be well known. Instead of breathless reporting about mysterious tragedies (see also “freak accidents“), media could do a huge service to local communities if they did a little research and used such horrific events as a springboard to educate people about a) safety for a high-risk group, teen workers and b) farm worker accident prevention.

The hazards associated with silos are well-recognized. One cited in this link might have been a description of the recent that killed the teens:

The typical scenario involves a worker entering an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere and collapsing. Co-workers notice the collapsed worker and enter the same atmosphere and attempt a rescue; however, if they do not use proper precautions (respirators, ventilator fans, etc.), they also collapse.

Additional resources
Confined Space Hazards a Threat to Farmers
Dangerous Gases and Fires Can Make Silos Death Traps
Silo Gas Dangers
Silo Gas Dangers – from Farm Safety
Preventing Deaths of Farm Workers in Manure Pits
Confined Space Hazards
OSHA: Confined Space
Parental Alert: 2010′s Five Worst Teen Jobs

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