Twenty seconds — that’s all it takes for a grown man to become engulfed by grain in a storage bin. And even strongest, most physically fit person can’t overcome the weight and force of that grain.

In 2010, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, there were 51 grain bin engulfments in the U.S., resulting in 26 deaths. Additionally, there were hundreds of injuries.

“It was the worst year on record for grain bin engulfments and fatalities,” says Dan Neenan, director the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety at Northeast Iowa Community College.

“It’s just part of the unenviable record that agriculture has as as America’s most dangerous occupation,” he said at a Grain Bin Safety Workshop at Sardis, Miss., one of a series sponsored by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. “U.S. agriculture had 551 fatalities in 2011, and averages 70,000 disabling injuries per year.”

Grain bin deaths and injuries are particularly challenging, Neenan says, because it can a long period of time for rescue personnel to reach isolated farm areas, and emergency crews often don’t have the equipment needed and/or are not trained in the specialized techniques needed for rescue from a grain bin.

Rescue can be further complicated, he says, because information is often not readily available about bin layouts, equipment involved, and wiring/shutdown switches.

“The average rescue time for someone in a grain engulfment is 3.5 hours,” Neenan says. “That’s an awfully long time to be trapped in a mountain of grain — particularly if it’s in hot weather and you’re dealing with oxygen deficiency and potentially hazardous gases and dust.”

Suffocation is a leading cause of death in grain storage bins, according to OSHA. Even if a person isn’t trapped in grain, gases from spoiling grain or fumigants and molds can be toxic and can cause permanent central nervous system damage, heart and vascular disease, and even cancer. Carbon monoxide buildups can cause a person to quickly collapse, become unconscious, and die.