Tragedy shows focus needed on safety

Death of sisters raises need for safety awareness regarding children around equipment on today’s large farm operations

Food is the natural gift in a tragedy, but the head of a farm safety association says communities that want to make farms safer should organize a farm safety day.

Marcel Hacault, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, said farm safety awareness demonstrations do help kids and their parents stay safer on the farm.

“Research shows it does help,” said Hacault.

Thirteen-year-old Catie Bott and her 11-year-old twin sisters, Dara and Jana, died after they were buried in a load of canola near Withrow, Alta., Oct. 13 while playing in a grain truck.

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Adults freed the girls from the canola and administered CPR. Two of the sisters died at the scene, and the third died later at the Stollery Children’s hospital.

“We do not regret raising and involving our kids … on our farm. It was our life,” said the statement by parents Roger and Bonita Bott and read by RCMP sgt. Mike Numan, a day after the tragedy.

“Our kids died living life on the farm. It was a family farm.”

Ivan Dijkstra, deputy fire chief with Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services said: “The girls were with their parents and while the truck was being unloaded they somehow fell into the canola seed.”

Hacault said farmers and the agriculture community need to examine how to instil a love of farming in children without exposing them to unnecessary risk.

It starts with having a discussion around the supper table about the tragedy at Withrow and how to stay safe on the farm, he said.

Four children and three adults have died in Canada since January after becoming trapped in grain.

“I think we just need to have conversations on the farm. The accidents seem to be going up,” said Hacault.

Many farm-raised people re-member playing in and around grain when they were younger, but the risk around the farm increases as farms and equipment become larger.

Knocking sticky grain off the wall of a 1,300 bushel bin is less risky than knocking the grain off the walls of a 30,000 bu. bin.

“All farmers knocked grain off the side of bins or played in a truck of grain, but the scale of equipment is so much larger. Maybe we have to resensitize ourselves to the level of risk,” Hacault said.

“Maybe we don’t think it is as dangerous because it wasn’t dangerous when we were growing up. We’re still associating the risk as it was 30 or 40 years ago when there was much less volume.”

Hacault believes a “grain entrapment training unit” could be taken to fairs and trade shows to help raise awareness of the dangers around grain. It could also be used to help volunteer first responders free people from grain.

However, the trailer unit is expensive, and the association is struggling to find money to buy one.

“It costs money, and we haven’t been able to find money from industry to support the project. We’re struggling to get traction. We think it would be a very useful in training,” he said.

It is unclear just how the children in Withrow died, but Hacault said when adults die from grain entrapment it usually occurs when a farmer goes inside a bin to unblock grain. Children can be trapped in grain while playing in a bin or truck or if they fall in while retrieving a fallen object.

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