Workshop offers tips to keep kids safe on farms; biggest injury-causers are falls (often from tractors), animals and machinery

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Growing up on a farm gives children the opportunity to play in ways that few others get to experience, and gain a set of useful skills, but agricultural safety experts caution that farm life also comes with safety challenges that all too often can result in injury or even death.

According to the National Ag Safety Database, 33 children sustain agriculture-related injuries every day, and every three days a child dies from an agriculture-related incident.

“A lot of these ag-related injuries, work-related injuries in ag, are related to the fact that children are doing work that does not match their capabilities or their abilities,” youth agricultural safety specialist Marsha Salzwedel said at the Child Agricultural Injury Prevention Workshop in Lexington Aug. 6-7.

The three most common causes of non-fatal injuries are falls, animals and machinery, such as tractors; and the top three causes of fatal injuries are machinery, other vehicles and drowning.

Salzwedel, of the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, added that advances in technology are changing the types of farm injuries found in children. She told the story of a child who lost an eye after being hit by a drone.

Page from guidelines book; for a larger version, click on the image.

Salzwedel suggested that parents use the Agricultural Youth Work Guidelines to help determine whether a youth has the physical and cognitive abilities to safely perform a job.

The guidelines have a checklist for 51 ag-related jobs detailing what youth between 7 and 16 need to perform a job safely. The list also gives adult responsibilities, suggestions for the level of adult supervision, and hazards and protective strategies.

Salzwedel noted that tractors are the leading cause of fatalities for youth and children, but added that all-terrain vehicles and skid-steer loaders “are coming up fast behind them.”

The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety reports that tractors are responsible for more than 40% of unintentional farm-injury deaths of children under 15. It also reports that four out of five farm children regularly ride on them.

Tractors are notorious for turning over, but says there are many ways a rider can fall and be injured while riding on a tractor, including “sudden stops, driving over holes, stumps and debris, or a sharp turn.” It adds that tractors with cabs are no guarantee of injury prevention, because children have fallen out cabs after hitting a door than then opened.

The Childhood Agricultural Safety Network, a 60-member coalition that includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, has launched a “Keep Kids Away from Tractors” campaign with the message: “It’s easier to bury a tradition than a child.”

Dennis Murphy, a professor emeritus at Penn State University, said ATVs present a number of safety challenges when it comes to keeping kids safe on farms. For example, he noted that all too often young children are at risk of getting hurt on them because they are driving a machine that is too big for them, riding with passengers, not wearing helmets, operating on paved roads, which they are not designed for, or driving on slopes and uneven ground.

He added that a recent survey shows that upwards of 90% of youth say they drive an adult-sized machine and that another study found that 90% of kids have never received any training on ATV use.

Murphy also noted that 60% of child ag-related injuries happen to children who are not working, including infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. He stressed that “childcare is the best option” to keep children safe on farms, but said when this isn’t possible it’s important to provide a “safe play area.”

The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety offers an online book that shows how to create safe play areas on farms. Suggestions include making sure the area has designated physical boundaries and is away from traffic and machinery; age-appropriate equipment for the children using it; and competent supervision.

Several speakers noted that some obstacles to a safer farming culture for children is that parents and farm supervisors often underestimate the risk of injury or assume that decisions about safety are “obvious” or are “common sense,” and believe “It will happen to someone else.”

Joe Grzywacz, a Florida State University professor who has researched immigrant farmworkers and their families, told the workshop attendees, “Families don’t think of this as an occupational risk; they are thinking about this as . . . this is the way we live our lives.”

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