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Seconds to Tragedy – Help protect children and young workers from grain-related accidents

Courtesy of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition, this article details the hazards grain handling operations pose to children and young workers, and recommendations to help keep them safe. 

“Seconds to Tragedy” is not just a catchy phrase. That’s how long it takes to be fatally engulfed in grain.

Working with grain, or just being around grain equipment, is extremely hazardous. Under no circumstances should children be allowed on grain-handling worksites. Children and young workers are typically unaware of hazards, tend to act impulsively and are prone to taking risks. Once engulfed, the fatality rate for children and youth is 80 percent.1

These realities are depicted in a new video by the Grain Handling Safety Coalition (GHSC), “Seconds to Tragedy: Grain Safety for Young Workers.” Survivors of a tragic grain engulfment incident describe, in heartbreaking detail, what happens when safety is ignored. This video drives home the crucial importance of educating employers, farmers, workers, youth and parents about grain safety. Warning: This video may be disturbing for small children.

Engulfment is not the only hazard when working around grain. Youth can become entangled in machinery if it isn’t properly de-energized with lockout/tagout procedures. For example, two 17-year-old boys each lost a leg when they became entangled in an auger while working in a grain bin. The GHSC’s new video, “Control of Hazardous Energy for Lockout/Tagout,” illustrates critical steps in this industry best practice.

Falls, dust explosions, electrocutions, noise and struck-by incidents can also injure or kill. For example, a 17-year-old girl was at a grain silo with friends when she fell to her death. A 13-year-old boy was fatally engulfed when he climbed into an open-top grain trailer his father was unloading.

Not only are young workers at risk, but there are numerous incidents where young children have been injured or killed in and around grain storage or machinery. For example, a 9-year-old boy fell into grain and was fatally engulfed after climbing into a grain bin for unknown reasons. A 4-year-old girl died after becoming entrapped while playing with her brother in a grain wagon.

How do we help keep children and youth safe? The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety (NCCRAHS) and the GHSC have several suggestions:

  • Young children need to be kept out of farm worksites, especially if grain is involved. They should not be “watching” or “helping” when grain carts, wagons or bins are being loaded or unloaded. Child care and safe play areas are the best options for young children.
  • Young workers under the age of 18 should not be inside any storage structure, wagon or other type of equipment, such as a grain truck, unless it is empty and proper lockout/tagout procedures have been followed. See the GHSC Young Workers Position Statement.
  • Youth should only be assigned work duties in areas that are appropriate for their age and abilities, such as cleaning an empty grain bin. To help determine if a youth is ready to perform a particular task, see the NCCRAHS Youth Agricultural Work Guidelines.
  • Youth must be trained to recognize hazards, necessary safety equipment and proper work strategies. Encourage young workers to Stand T.A.L.L (Talk. Ask. Learn. Live) and speak up when they feel unsafe. See GHSC training materials and Stand T.A.L.L. resources.  

The bottom line is that we all need to devote time to creating a safer workplace – it’s only seconds to tragedy. To further explore this topic, please register for our live webinar on February 22, 2017 at 3 p.m. (CT). We will preview “Seconds to Tragedy: Grain Safety for Young Workers,” discuss safety strategies that could have prevented this incident and explain how the video and other materials can be used as training tools. 

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


[1] “2014 Summary of U.S. Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries and Fatalities.” Purdue University Agricultural Confined Space Incident Database (PACSID). 2014.

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