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Withrow farm deaths show dangers of playing around grain, expert says

The accidental deaths of three young girls on a central Alberta farm underscore that modern-day agricultural operations are more dangerous than they were a generation ago, says a national safety expert.

3 sisters smothered by canola seed at central Alberta family farm

Bott family friend talks about the pain of the Withrow farm deaths and how it could have happened. 3:54

The accidental deaths of three young girls on a central Alberta farm underscore that modern-day agricultural operations are more dangerous than they were a generation ago, says a national safety expert.

Catie Bott, 13, and her 11-year-old twin sisters Dara, and Jana Bott, were buried under canola seed while playing in the back of a truck at their family's farm near Withrow, Alta., on Tuesday evening.

Family and friends have identified the girls who died in the central Alberta farm accident as the daughters of Roger and Bonita Bott. (Facebook)

Emergency responders tried to resuscitate the girls for two hours, but the 13-year-old and one of the 11-year-old twins died at the scene. Their sister was flown to hospital in Edmonton in critical condition, but she died on Wednesday morning.

Marcel Hacault, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, says playing around grain is much more dangerous than it was when he was growing up.

"Maybe this is what's happening — when we were young, it was fun to play in the grain, we were talking small-scale, small bins, small amounts of grain being moved," he said.

"Now … farms are getting bigger, everything is bigger, and it only takes 10 seconds to get engulfed or buried by grain. You don't have near-misses anymore. You get the fatalities."

There were 306 farm-related fatalities in Alberta from 1997 to 2013 — including 61 children, according to the Farm Safety Centre.

Marcel Hacault, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, says playing around grain is more dangerous on large-scale, modern farming operations. (CBC)

On average, about three children were killed per year on farms in that period, ranging from a high of eight in 2008 to none in 2013. There were two fatal incidents last year.

Among children aged 14 and under, the most common causes of farm-related deaths were:

  • Machine runovers: 41.9 per cent.
  • Drownings: 15.2 per cent.
  • Machine rollovers: 11.1 per cent.
  • Animal-related: 6.5 per cent.
  • Crushed under an object: 5.1 per cent.

The tragedy should remind rural communities of the importance of promoting safety for children on farms, Hacault says.

"Remember, that the … farmyard is a dangerous place, full of dangers, and you have to explain it to the kids, even though when you were younger, you may have played in the grain. Now, with size and scale, it's just not an acceptable activity," he said.

The Farm Safety Centre has been visiting schools to teach children in rural Alberta about staying safe on farms since 1997. 

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