Children and grain handling don't mix

Learn how to help prevent tragic grain bin accidents involving young workers and children.

Courtesy of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition (GHSC), this article underscores the special care needed to help prevent tragic grain bin accidents involving young workers and children.

Working in and around grain is extremely hazardous — even for experienced, trained adults. Under no circumstances should children be in grain-handling worksites.

And still, recent harvest seasons have brought tragic fatalities and close-calls.

  • A 13-year-old girl and her twin sisters, 11, die on their family’s Alberta farm when they became engulfed in a truck loaded with canola seed.  
  • An 8-year-old South Dakota boy escapes death when his shoe becomes jammed in the bottom of the grain wagon gate, allowing his nose and mouth to stay just above the wheat.
  • A 5-year-old North Carolina boy suffocates in a grain cart while it’s being loaded.
  • A 12-year-old Iowa girl is pulled under flowing corn in a gravity-box wagon being unloaded by her father. Emergency personnel freed her.
  • A 63-year-old Saskatchewan man tries to save his grandson, 14, but both drown in grain being unloaded from a semi-trailer.

All of these incidents could have been prevented if recommendations from the Grain Handling Safety Coalition (GHSC) had been followed. See GHSC Position Statement for Youth Working with Grain.

According to the statement:

  • Youth under 18 years of age should not be inside any storage structure, wagon or other type of equipment when grain is being loaded, unloaded or transferred.
  • Youth should not be in grain bins, silos or in/around flat storage structures unless they are empty, proper lock out/tag out and other safety procedures are followed, and the youth is at least 16 years old.

Fast facts

  • Nearly 1 in 5 entrapments involve youth 11-20 years old. Eighty percent of those entrapments end in death. (These numbers do not even include children younger than 11.) 
  • Flowing grain acts like quicksand. It takes less than five seconds to become helplessly trapped.
  • One cubic foot of grain weighs 50 pounds. A 165-pound person buried neck-deep would require 625 pounds of force to pull out.

Read more about the Hazards of Flowing Grain.

Encourage young workers to "Stand T.A.L.L."Stand TALL. Talk about the job, what training is needed and who will supervise. Ask questions and for help when uncertain. Learn how to recognize and avoid workplace hazards. Live - go home to family and friends at the end of the day, alive and injury free

The Grain Handling Safety Coalition encourages young people to Stand T.A.L.L. (Talk. Ask. Learn. Live.) to help keep themselves and others safe in the workplace.  If young people are going to work in empty grain storage structures, such as cleaning out a bin, they must be properly trained. Stand T.A.L.L. resources empower young workers by helping them understand jobs or tasks and by encouraging them to ask questions if they don’t understand a task or are uncomfortable performing it.

It is equally important to train adults who will be supervising and working with young workers. Adults assign jobs to young workers, mitigate hazards in the worksite and provide personal protective equipment, supervision and training. Stand T.A.L.L. materials can be easily adapted for use with adults, and can also be used with young workers and adults combined.

In addition, both the position statement and the Stand T.A.L.L. materials link to other valuable resources related to working youth, such as the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks.

Two on-demand webinars further explain Stand T.A.L.L.:

Another great resource is the popular YouTube video, Following Proper Grain Bin Entry Procedures Saves Lives.

If we all work together — parents and children, employers and young people — everyone can go home at the end of the day, injury-free and ready for tomorrow!

For information, contact Marsha Salzwedel, agricultural youth safety specialist, National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety at (715) 389-5226.