• In 1931, an explosion occurs at one of Cargill’s grain terminals. Caused by flammable grain dust, the accident sheds light on common workplace hazards.
  • With safety as a core value, Cargill formalizes its safety program in 1934, which evolves year by year. Here, an employee tracks on-site accidents.
  • Cargill starts the Grain Laboratory, where researchers explore the dangers of grain dust (above) and develop safer, more sophisticated handling methods.
  • Today, safety is a defining element of Cargill’s global culture. The company continues to improve its safety performance, protecting employees around the world.

Focusing on workplace safety


After two grain handling accidents, Cargill establishes safety standards that will continue to evolve, protecting industry workers across the globe.

With combustible grain dust, heavy machinery and hundreds of people, Cargill’s early grain facilities were dangerous by nature. Fortunately, the company remained accident-free for several decades, but in February 1931, an employee was fatally injured when the packed wheat he stood upon collapsed.

Another tragedy struck three years later. A massive grain-dust explosion set fire to the company’s terminal elevator in Omaha, which Cargill’s vice president, John MacMillan Jr., had personally designed. Three employees perished and many more were severely injured.

While an investigation revealed that John Jr.’s design helped prevent greater loss of life, the accidents inspired a dedicated focus on workplace safety. By 1934, Cargill had introduced an innovative, company-wide campaign featuring a new safety index, education on secure grain handling and its first-ever safety contest, challenging plants to run without accidents.

In the 1950s, Cargill took additional steps to improve its workplace safety. The company established its innovative Grain Laboratory near the current Cargill headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a state-of-the-art space devoted to conducting research and accident trials.

At the facility, researchers developed an educational, 18-inch high model grain elevator made of metal, featuring replaceable inserts composed of several different thicknesses of paper and an internal electric sparking device. They demonstrated that just one-quarter tablespoon of dust, ignited by a single spark inside the elevator gave way to an enormous explosion. The research at the Grain Laboratory helped Cargill better understand the dangers of combustible grain dust, motivating the company to create safer methods for handling and storing grain.

Today, workplace safety is a cornerstone of Cargill’s commitment to corporate responsibility. At facilities big and small, the company works to constantly improve safety in ever-challenging conditions that extend well beyond grain, reflecting its evolution into a global presence and its unwavering respect for employees.