Safety is always a priority during harvest, but often the focus is on tractors, combines, roadways and grain bins. But this past weekend an explosion at a Kansas grain elevator had devastating effects and left another reminder about the dangers of handling grain.

An explosion at a grain elevator, located in Atchison, Kan., sent an orange fireball into the night sky, according to witnesses. It took out a section of the grain distribution building, positioned directly above the elevator, as well as created a substantial hole in the side of a concrete silo.

On Sunday, rescue workers were still searching the area, but had to be called off due to concerns about the structural integrity of the elevator, which is owned and operated by the Bartlett Grain Co. On Sunday, smoke was still coming out of the facilities and there was concern that the buildings would collapse.

Reports are that three people may have been killed in the explosion, an elevator employee and two grain inspectors. Two other people were taken to the burn unit at University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. One was listed in critical condition Sunday evening; the other was in serious condition. Four other people escaped without injuries, according to reports.

A statement released by Bartlett Grain indicated that elevator workers were loading a train with corn when the explosion occurred, but the exact cause has not been determined.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration data shows that more than 600 explosions have occurred at grain elevators during the past forty years. Associated injuries exceed 1,000 and 250 people have died. The Atchison elevator has not been cited for any violations in the last 10 years, according to OSHA data

Of course grain dust is a common hazard within elevators. An electrical spark, cigarette or other flame can ignite the dust, which sends a pressure wave and causes an explosion.

The Atchison elevator is federally licensed to handle up to 1.18 billion bushels.

Source: AP, Huffington Post