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



What a tragedy for those poor families to endure.

In August 2003, two 16-year-old boys working on a Washington State dairy farm died from asphyxiation when they entered an upright-sealed silo three days after filling it with hay. For more information, see the hazard alert:Fatal Hazards in Agriculture: Two Boys Die in Silo

Maybe they weren't supposed to have been in the silo. I am sure the farmer told them of the dangers of working in or near the silos or the 18 year old would not have been working there for 4 years. Just because they are "teenagers" doesn't mean it is any less dangerous to other farmers who have died working on their farms. It is sad that they died, but I don't understand your sarcasm.

The silo the Michigan teens were washing was empty. Is silo gas still a danger in empty silos?

These storage silos are designed to be oxygen-limiting to reduce the degradation of the feed stored in them and in doing so, create an oxygen deficient atmosphere. So, if there were no NOx degradation product creating a toxic atmoshpere, it may well have been anoxic.

It should be the responsibility of the person
in charge of these farm workers,to educate everyone, especially the younger ones, about the dangers of silos. Who in the state of Michigan is responsible for making sure that this education takes place?
How do we guarantee the safety of the workers?
Thank you for your comments.

I was hoping there would be some sort of plea for donations for the grieving families to assist with burial expenses, legal expenses and so on. I contacted the lawyer (James Betzold) for the two families and he said he'd get back with me in a couple of hours and now it's been several days. I hope he's more attentive to these families and their needs.

I am one of the attorneys from Avanti Law Group (www.avantilaw.com)(facebook, Avanti Law Group, PLCL)representing the families of these unfortunate boys. We have been working tirelessly to make sure that the families are taken care of and unfortunately there are some phone calls I meant to make, but the families issues took top priority. Jay, Thank you for your help in spreading the word about what can be done to help the families who are in need of donations, for the transportation and burial of their boys. We have been actively involved in helping the families make arrangements and in dealing with the various interviews from the media and the Michigan Occupational Safety Hazard Administration who are interviewing witnesses.

One of the families is in desperate need of $2000.00 to pay for storage and transportation of their son to where he will be laid to rest in southern Mexico. Therefore, we are asking for your generosity to help this family by donating to cover these costs.

You can go to any Chemical Bank Branch to donate money directly into
the following account: Avanti Law Group, PLLC; Victor and Francisco
Memorial Fund. Chemical Bank has agreed to match the first $200.00 in donations that are made to these families through their branch, so we encourage you to stop by and donate at one of their branches today. http://www.chemicalbankmi.com/

You may also mail a check
written out to the "Avanti Law Group, PLLC - Victor and Francisco Memorial Fund" to our office at 4543 S. Division Ave, Wyoming, MI 49548 and it will go promptly to the families.

You can also donate securely through Paypal by following the attached link.

The truth of the matter is, and Lynch is exactly right, there is no mystery here. Farmers and farmworkers should be sure to be educated on and follow all proper safety protocols to make sure that deaths like these do not happen.


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This page contains a single entry by Julie Ferguson published on July 13, 2010 1:15 PM.

Bad Back: New York Toil and Trouble was the previous entry in this blog.

Cavalcade of Risk, Picnic Edition, seasoned with a dash of risk management humor is the next entry in this blog.

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