Last week, an explosion inside a grain silo killed one employee, another tragic reminder of just how deadly combustible dust can be. Fire investigators believe the fatal explosion was caused when dust ignited after a mechanical failure in a shaft and pulley system in the basement of the facility.

The explosion occurred at the Co-Alliance fertilizer and grain facility in Union Mills, Indiana, located approximately 50 miles outside of Chicago. 67-year old victim, James Swank, had been employed at the facility for seven years. According to LaPorte County Coroner, Swank died of multiple blunt force trauma.

Shawn Lambert, Safety and Risk Manager of Co-Alliance stated that it was unclear as to where Swank was working, whether it was on top of the roof of the silo or the ground level section, when the explosion occurred. He also stated, “We pride ourselves on safety and we are very saddened by the fact that we lost somebody.” All others who were at the facility at the time of the explosion were accounted for and no other injuries were reported.

This tragic incident is a reminder of the dangers of combustible dust in many industries, including those that handle grains. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), over 500 combustible dust explosions have occurred in grain-handling facilities in the United States over the past 35 years. These explosions have resulted in more than 180 deaths and over 675 injuries.