Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
53-Year-Old Cattle Farmer Entangled in Exposed Rotating Conveyor Shaft
During the fall of 2004, a 53-year-old cattle farmer was killed while feeding silage to his herd of 182 beef cattle. He was in the midst of routine feeding chores, working in a feed shed adjacent to two silos and a feed bunk structure. This shed contained two conveyors and an auger for moving silage and feeds from the silos to the feed bunk. This mixing and feeding system had been used for the past 20+ years to supply an outdoor cattle feeding operation. The configuration of conveyors and controls in the shed required the farmer to crouch down and crawl under the feed bunk conveyor several times during each feeding cycle. There was only about 3 foot (90 cm) clearance between the conveyor and the floor. The farmer was accustomed to ducking under the conveyor and had done so for many years. There were many unguarded moving parts in this work area. The shaft for the pulley at the end of the conveyor was too long, extending about 2.5 inches (6 cm) beyond the bearings on both sides of the pulley (Photo 1). The shaft had a keyway, which created sharp-cornered entanglement points on both ends of the shaft. The injury occurred while the farmer was ducking under the conveyor belt. His coat collar was caught and wound up in the exposed rotating shaft. He became entangled and the conveyor belt stalled as the coat wrapped around the shaft. He was found dead at the scene several hours later in the afternoon by a family friend.
Recommendations based on our investigation are as follows:
During the fall of 2004, two eastern Iowa cattle growers died in nearly identical incidents which occurred 85 miles (135km) and twelve days apart. In both cases, the neck/shoulder area of their jackets became entangled in exposed rotating silage conveyor pulley shaft ends. The Iowa FACE program was alerted to the incident in this report by a newspaper article, and an investigation was initiated, gathering information from the County Sheriff and the Medical Examiner. The family was contacted and a site visit was scheduled. Photographs were obtained from the Sheriff, and additional photographs were taken when two Iowa FACE investigators met with a relative of the family and visited the site where the injury occurred.
The victim in this case was a 53-year-old active cattle grower, who was managing three farms. He had been farming full-time at the same location since high school, working with his father and later with his wife and children. The incident occurred on his home farm which had 120 acres (48 hectares) of crop land and a custom feeding operation for about 180 cattle. He also raised some feeder pigs. In the past, this had been a dairy farm with up to 50 dairy cows. This was a family farm and had no formal safety programs or written policies in place.
This cattle feeding operation had two silos as seen in photo 2. One was a conventional concrete silo and the other was a larger, oxygen-limiting silo. A feeding control shed was built between the silos from which feed was conveyed to the adjacent feed bunk that extended to the outdoor feedlot area. When the farm was a dairy, the concrete silo was filled with corn silage and the oxygen-limiting silo was filled with hay silage. Since the milk cows were sold 5-6 years ago, the concrete silo was abandoned, and the oxygen-limiting silo was used for ground, high-moisture ear corn. Between the two silos was a feeding control shed containing an auger and two conveyor belts, which were used daily to mix and distribute feed to the feed bunk (Photo 3).
The farmer’s normal feeding chores would take about 30 minutes early in the morning. As ground corn was moved from the silo by the auger, he would add cracked corn by bucket from a pile near the doorway of the shed. Photo 4 shows his normal work position at this time to the left of the switch panel. This task required the farmer to crawl under the exposed end of the horizontal conveyor belt a few times each day to access the switches, open and close the oxygen-limiting silo, and add corn to the feed. The farmer had become accustomed to doing this every day. On the day of the incident, the farmer had gotten up early, about 4:30 am. He had been plowing all morning and proceeded to feed cattle about 10:30 am. During feeding, while ducking under the conveyor belt, the collar of his jacket was caught and wound up in the exposed end of the shaft for the horizontal feed bunk conveyor (Photo 5). He was strangled by his clothing and his entangled clothing stalled the conveyor belt.
Cause of Death
The cause of death according to the Medical Examiner’s report was strangulation.
Recommendation #1: Machinery and equipment must be guarded properly to avoid entanglements.
Discussion: Conveyors and feeding equipment have many moving and rotating parts. The farmer had to work in close proximity of the conveyor which had several entanglement points. There were many other unguarded belts, pulleys, shafts, and augers in the immediate work area. The end and bottom side of the main bunk conveyor was particularly exposed and the farmer had to duck under it through a three-foot (90cm) space several times each day, in many cases when the conveyor was running. There are well established standards for agricultural machinery guarding which would apply for properly protecting moving parts in this work area (ANSI/ASAE S493).
Recommendation #2 - Control switches and stationary machinery should be placed so that there is no need to work close to hazardous machine parts.
Discussion: The overall layout of the conveyors and augers in this feed shed created unsafe working conditions. The electrical controls for this feeding system were consolidated, but to access them the farmer often had to crawl under the main feed bunk conveyor. For mixing other feeds into the conveyor, he would have to go back to the other side again to manually move corn and/or other supplements to the conveyor. It is difficult to place conveyors, augers, and controls in a feeding system so that there is no need to work close to moving machine parts. However, with careful planning most hazardous work circumstances can be avoided.