Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
Farmer Died When Portable Elevator Fell Onto Him
In the fall of 2008, a 68-year-old male farmer died when a portable farm elevator fell onto him as he was pulling it away from an ear corn bin with a 7 HP lawn tractor. He had attached a chain to the elevator’s axle and to the rear axle of the lawn tractor. There were approximately two bushels of ear corn at the top of the elevator. As he was moving the elevator, the top of the elevator fell and struck his back and head. The impact forced him forward on the tractor seat and pinned him against the steering wheel and gearshift lever. When his spouse heard the lawn tractor running for a longer period than usual, she left the house to check on him. She found him pinned against the wheel. She checked for a pulse and found him deceased. She called emergency response, and when they arrived, the decedent was declared dead at the scene.
In the fall of 2008, a 68-year-old male farmer died when a portable farm elevator fell onto him as he was pulling it away from a ear corn bin with a lawn tractor. MIFACE was notified of this fatal incident by a newspaper clipping. On July 7, 2009, the MIFACE researcher interviewed the decedent’s spouse at the farmstead. During the course of writing this report, the police report, death certificate, and the medical examiner’s death scene investigation report were reviewed. Pictures used in Figures 1, 2, and 3 were taken by the responding police agency at the time of the incident. The pictures used in Figures 4, and 5 were taken by the MIFACE investigator at the time of the site visit. Pictures have been modified to remove identifiers.
The decedent was a retired farm laborer. While employed, he maintained his own beef cattle operation and was in the process of acquiring swine to supplement the cattle operation. His spouse stated that she and her husband had owned the family farm for a number of years. The decedent and his son worked on the farm every day, although his son had another job off the farm. At the time of the incident, the decedent had 50 to 60 head of cattle. The decedent rented 22 acres to grow ear corn and 24 acres to grow hay. The decedent ground the ear corn used for the beef cattle operation.
His spouse stated that to her knowledge, the decedent had not received any safety training nor had he attended safety training provided by MSU Extension or another agency. He did not have a farm safety program.
The decedent was in the process of moving the 30- to 35-foot-long, 800-pound portable elevator from one ear corn crib to a second crib. According to his wife, the decedent’s usual tractor of choice to move the elevator was the lawn tractor. His son had mentioned to the decedent that he wanted the decedent to wait for him until he got home from work, and together they would unload the ear corn and move the elevator. The decedent had used the lawn tractor for years and was very familiar with its operation.
The portable elevator had also been used by the decedent for many years. A track was located under each of the long sides of the elevator frame. In the track was a roller, which was part of a support (upper support) post. The base of the post was welded to the undercarriage wheel axle (See Figures 3 and 5, and Drawing 1). Also welded to the axle was the base of a lower support. The top of the lower support was affixed to the elevator frame near the input end and was free to rotate about its attachment point. The elevator was raised and lowered by a hand crank connected to a cable, which moved the upper support’s roller along the track.
The decedent had done some errands that morning. He arrived home, and between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m., he told his wife he was going to move the portable elevator. While his wife was working on tasks inside the home, the decedent went to the storage shed and removed the lawn tractor. He drove it a short distance to the ear corn bins. He attached a chain to the undercarriage of the elevator and to the rear axle of the lawn tractor (Figures 2 and 3). The grass-covered ground was uneven. With approximately two bushels of ear corn weighing 140 pounds at the top (discharge area) of the elevator, he began to pull the elevator away from the ear corn bin (Drawing 1).
At noon, his wife heard the lawn tractor running and did not think anything was wrong. The tractor continued to run for another ten minutes. She thought that it was unusual for the lawn tractor to run that long just to move the portable elevator. When the decedent did not come into the house, she went outside to check on him. She found him seated on the lawn tractor under the collapsed portable elevator. The lawn tractor was still running and in reverse gear. The driver’s side rear wheel was spinning and was partially buried in the loose soil. There was another divot in the ground near the elevator’s wheel.
She turned the lawn tractor off. The impact of the portable elevator falling onto the decedent’s body forced him forward on the tractor seat, pinning his upper body against the steering wheel and gearshift lever. His left arm was resting on the steering wheel. The lawn tractor’s gear pattern was in an “H” pattern; reverse in the upper left of the “H” and first gear in the lower left of the “H” (Figure 4). It is hypothesized that the force of the elevator striking him and moving him forward moved the gearshift lever from first gear to reverse gear. As this was an un-witnessed event, it is unknown precisely why the elevator collapsed. His wife checked on his status and found him cool to the touch. She indicated to the MIFACE researcher she knew he was deceased. She immediately called 911 and neighbors for assistance. Emergency response arrived and the decedent was declared dead at the scene.
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Cause of Death
The cause of death as listed on the death certificate was blunt force trauma to head, neck and back. No autopsy was performed.
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Agricultural operators should develop and implement safe move/transport work practices for portable elevators.
A farm safety plan should be established for the agricultural operation that includes work rules such as how to inspect and transport/move portable equipment.
There is no legal requirement in Michigan for a written safety plan in agriculture. A written safety plan can help identify factors that can contribute to an injury, illness, or fatality. In some fatal work-related events, there is a single cause of the fatality. More commonly, as in this tragic incident, a combination of factors contributed: his location under the elevator, the choice of pulling unit, the hitch points, transporting the elevator in a raised position, and the load at the top of elevator.
MIFACE recommends a written safety plan. Such a plan would identify the safety and health hazards for the farm, so hazard controls could be developed. A safety plan which is communicated to all who work on the farm would help raise awareness of safety issues and promote safe work practices. Additional benefits include increasing work efficiency, and minimizing costs. If there are employees, a written farm safety plan might reduce worker compensation premiums. A safety plan should include work rules, such as how to inspect a piece of equipment and how to the transport/move portable equipment. At the time of the incident, the condition of the cables was unknown, as were the tightness of the cable clamps and the number of turns of cable on the windlass. It is unknown if the cable condition, cable clamps and number of turns on the windlass were factors in the fatality.
Several resources are available for developing a farm safety plan. Examples include:
Key Words: Portable elevator, Struck By, Agriculture, Ear corn, Lawn tractor
Michigan FACE Program
MIFACE (Michigan Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation), Michigan State University (MSU) Occupational & Environmental Medicine, MIFACE (Michigan Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation), Michigan State University (MSU) Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 117 West Fee Hall, East Lansing, Michigan 48824-1315; http://www.oem.msu.edu. This information is for educational purposes only. This MIFACE report becomes public property upon publication and may be printed verbatim with credit to MSU. Reprinting cannot be used to endorse or advertise a commercial product or company. All rights reserved. MSU is an affirmative-action, equal opportunity institution. 9/30/09
MIFACE Investigation Report #08MI128 Evaluation (see page 8 of report)
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