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Keeping Kids Safe on the Farm

By Stephanie Teel

Strangers often are a scary threat to children. While parents remember to warn their youngsters about the threat strangers can pose, they often overlook a more serious problem that is closer to home; the dangers children face every time they are on a farm.

Unfortunately, farm accidents are a serious and frequent occurrence. According to Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, an organization founded by Marilyn Adams after she lost a son in a gravity flow wagon accident, 23,500 children are injured on U.S. farms and ranches every year, and approximately 300 others are killed. Understanding what causes accidents as well as what children should know to be safety-minded is the first step to making statistics such as these a thing of the past.

Tractors account for the largest percentage of accidents involving children on the farm. For children five years of age and younger, runovers cause the most deaths, and as the age of the child increases, so does the risk for tractor rollovers. According to the National Safety Council, the average age for a child to drive a tractor is 12 years; therefore, it is important that youth be properly educated on the basics of tractor safety.

The most important rule to remember about tractors is the old adage, “one seat, one rider.” Children should not be allowed to ride as passengers on any type of farm equipment. Before a child can be given the responsibility of driving a tractor, he or she should be informed of how to react in case of an emergency and understand the safety instructions listed in the operator’s manual for all equipment. Anticipation of danger and quick thinking is of utmost importance in the few seconds it takes for something to go wrong behind the wheel. Also, no task should be given to a child before they are mentally and physically strong enough to handle it.

Other leading causes of farm accidents involve entanglements and grain equipment. The PTO, or Power Take Off, is the fast-moving shaft that runs from the tractor to an implement. It causes most cases of entanglement and nearly 12 percent of all deaths. Children should be taught that there is simply not enough time to react if a piece of clothing or a body part gets caught in the PTO. The speed of the shaft alone results in most of the accidents. For safety, the PTO should be turned off when inspecting any problem, and protective shields should be installed and used. Grain bins, harvesting equipment and silos also can be dangerous to kids who have not been educated about the potential dangers associated with them. It is also important to teach children how to handle themselves around chemicals, electricity, and livestock.

While children are not usually responsible for chemical application, they should be able to identify what chemicals are and where they are stored in order to know how to avoid them. Also, kids can be taught to remind their parents to wear the proper protective equipment and to launder chemical-soiled clothing separately from other laundry.

Children should not be responsible for fixing problems that may arise with electricity on the farm, but they can be taught to recognize the danger associated with electricity and the importance of notifying adults of any electrical problems. It is important to educate youth on the proper way to handle livestock without putting themselves in danger by respecting the unpredictable behavior of animals. Children also should understand the importance of operating all terrain vehicles (ATVs) safely.

While ATVs are popular on many farms for both work and recreation, they pose a potential safety risk when parents allow children to operate an ATV without specialized training or one that is too large for the child to handle. The National Safety Council advises that an ATV with a model engine size of 70cc to 90cc should be operated only by people age 12 and older, and those with a model engine size greater than 90cc should be operated by people age 16 and over. Again, extra passengers pose a major safety threat, and helmets should be worn at all times.

Children also should be educated on general first aid procedures when learning about farm safety. Knowing basic principles such as how to stop the bleeding from an open wound and the phone numbers to dial in an emergency could potentially save the lives of both children and adults. Clear directions to family farms should be posted by the phone.

Most experts agree that effective safety programs should begin at home. Parents who practice safety measures as a rule often have kids who do the same. Because children often mirror the actions of the adults around them, Lubbock County Extension Agent Mark Brown believes, “training of the adults is very important, as well as the youth.” Even with education, many families may be hesitant to change because they feel their current practices are safe enough.

Dr. Larry K. Lowry disagrees. As deputy director of the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention and Education, Dr. Lowry knows for a fact that most people are not careful enough. Dr. Lowry says, “They have to develop a different safety mentality, and that involves behavior modification.” Dr. Lowry believes that simply giving people a list of “thou shall nots” or attempting to enforce safety regulations would be both difficult and ineffective. Instead, the Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention and Education is attempting to change the way people think by supporting studies and educational efforts to better understand why accidents happen and discover better ways to teach people how to be safe.

The Southwest Center currently is developing a partnership with the Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas (VATAT). Noticing a need for safety education in vocational agriculture classes as well recognizing the influence that vo-ag teachers have on their students, the Southwest Center, along with representatives from VATAT, is working to develop a safety curriculum that will be incorporated into high school classrooms. Both sides of the partnership expect to see improved safety for the students as well as their families as a result of the new material. Other methods of spreading the word about the importance of farm safety currently are underway.

According to Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, the first phase of the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks, a publication listing general safety rules to follow, is close to being completed. Until parents have a standard set of rules to follow such as the Guidelines, it is important that they establish their own set of family rules, taking into account all of the major risks to a child’s safety on the farm.

Parents can begin a safe family plan by establishing a firm set of rules that includes boundaries and restrictions. Separating the farm operation from the children’s play areas reinforces the idea that farm equipment is for adults only. As children’s ages and maturity levels increase, so can the responsibilities handed to them.

Many experts are quick to warn, however, that a parent’s need to teach a child responsibility on the farm should never exceed the individual child’s maturity level or ability. Just because a child is tall enough to reach the pedals does not mean they are mature enough to handle any potential problems that may arise when operating a tractor or other equipment.

Safety is too important to go unnoticed. Families, educators, businesses and communities must all work together to increase knowledge about safety practices. The next generation of agriculture is depending on it.