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Man Falls to Death in Hopper During Fertilizer Unloading

January 26, 2017

A 50-year-old worker died Wednesday morning after he fell into a covered hopper railcar during an attempt to clear a jam and was buried by granular fertilizer, several local media sources reported.

Workers from Crop Productions Services were unloading fertilizer with a chute from a covered hopper railcar near Smith Lumber & Hardware Center in Lakeville, NY when a jam occurred, prompting a worker to climb to the top of the hopper, reported the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The worker fell into the hopper and became stuck, the newspaper said, with authorities finding the man dead when they responded to a 911 call.

Authorities said preliminary evidence suggests the employee, identified as John J. Higgins of Scottsville, NY, was killed accidentally, the Livingston County [NY] News reported.

“A company here that uses the rail system in Lakeville to unload product – they have a covered hopper, it looks like a railcar, full of fertilizer (and) there’s (three) employees on scene, trying to get the hopper unloaded into a truck via an auger system,” Livingston County Undersheriff Matt Bean told the News. “They couldn’t get it (fertilizer) to break up, so one of the employees goes on top of this hopper and unfortunately fell into the hopper.”

A worker present called 911, with firefighters from several departments responding to the scene, the news organizations said.

“Unfortunately, they can’t get to him just because of the denseness of the fertilizer,” Bean said in the News. “(Then) it becomes a recovery effort.”

The Rochester Fire Department dispatched a special unit to assist in the recovery, the Livingston newspaper reported.

“They have a close-quarters, rescue type team with a vacuum system,” Bean told the News. “They’re going to vacuum out the rest of the fertilizer out of this (train) car, and then we’re going to make an attempt, do the recovery of the deceased male.”

Bean said it was unclear whether the man died from suffocation or was crushed to death.

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