For children, grain looks like fun. It's not.

posted on Thursday, November 30, 2017 in Tips & Safety

The safety warnings about handling grain have been so many – and have been heard for so many years – that one would think grain accidents could never happen again. And yet they do, year after year.

Any death is tragic, but some are especially painful. Like a few years ago in Canada when a family’s three little girls got into a grain truck to play in freshly harvested canola.

All three died.

For the past seven seasons, on-site grain storage has gone up, according to statistics from the Grain Handling Safety Coalition, and that means more and more grain is being handled at home – with children present. And for a child, grain looks like fun.

“Families don’t think it’s going to happen to them – until it happens to them,” says Marsha Salzwedel, youth agricultural safety specialist at the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety.

OSHA has labeled agricultural grain handling as a “high hazard” safety risk, citing that 70% of all grain handling incidents happen on the farm, not at commercial sites. From 2001 to 2010 there was a 183% increase in incidents and fatalities from grain.

“The difference is that when an adult gets engulfed in grain – grain over their head – there is a 50% fatality rate. For children 16 and under it is 80%,” Salzwedel says.

“This concept of play at work – in a field full of large, moving ag equipment – is simply not safe,” Salzwedel stresses. “Children should not be present in the field during harvest. There is too much going on.”

John Deere product safety manager Marty Schramm agrees. “The equipment involved in these activities has specific purposes. They are to be used in specific way as detailed in the operating manual.”

Sending the wrong message. But even if grain is just a few inches deep, the damage to children is being done. An increasing number of farms have “corn boxes” instead of sand boxes, and some farms have even taken old unused grain bins, put a shallow layer of corn on the bottom, and turned them into play areas for their children.

“This just sends the wrong message,” says Catherine Rylatt of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition. “Children’s concepts of reality and play are not differentiated yet. When they ‘play’ in a grain bin and ‘play’ in the grain, we are telling them this is OK and fun.”

“Grain handling is not a ‘take your child to work’ activity,” she adds.

Constant supervision of the child would be near impossible, she says. In order for supervision to be effective, the parent would need to remain within touching/grabbing distance of the child, never taking their eyes off the child and be ready to respond immediately.

Rylatt says it doesn’t matter how little grain is in the bin because children may see another bin and think that one is OK to play in as well. “We are just sending a very conflicting message by introducing grain as play,” she says.