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Kids on the Farm: Don’t Take Your Eyes Off Safety

Jennifer Shike

About every three days, a child dies in an agriculture-related incident, and each day, at least 33 children are injured. During the past decade, youth worker fatalities in agriculture have exceeded all other industries combined.


Although the rate of non-fatal injuries to children in agriculture has dropped since the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety was established in 1997, agriculture remains hazardous for children and youth, explained Barbara Lee, director of the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety.


“We’ve come a long way,” Lee told AgriTalk’s Chip Flory. “We had really good injury data for about 12 years, and it shows the rate of injuries declined by about 60%. The rate of fatalities of children dying in farm accidents has stayed fairly steady, however, despite the decline in the number of farms and number of kids on farms. I think the most revealing thing is that for both injuries and deaths, more than half of them occur to kids who are not working – they are just bystanders in the farm environment.”


Lee said this is where the industry needs to keep its focus.


“Certainly, we want to protect the kids who are working. We believe work is good for them, inherently valuable. For kids working in agriculture, it's really important to match the child and the child's characteristics with the work at hand,” Lee said.


But it’s also important to keep a close eye on kids who stop by the farm or find themselves part of the farming background.


Be on Watch

“We’re entering into a dangerous time of the year for farm families,” Flory said. He asked Lee to share some of the biggest safety concerns right now.


She said the greatest number of deaths for young people are related to accidents with tractors, skid steers, moving implements and other forms of transportation.


“It’s really important that we factor in the dangers and the ability of a child to really handle machinery. I always think about when things go wrong, will the child be able to handle it? Bad weather? Equipment failure? Is the child mature enough to handle when things go wrong?”


She also encouraged parents to remember to parents first and farmers second. She said that means adopting the principles of safety for all kids.


“I can't state it often enough about the little ones who really should not be in the work environment,” Lee said. “When you're working, you have got to focus on the work. With nearly every child who was injured or killed on a farm, there's an adult nearby. It’s not they aren’t supervised, but farming can get complicate and little kids are unpredictable.”


Reflecting on 25 Years

On May 19, the center will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a free webinar. Speakers will include Lee, Marsha Salzwedel, project scientist and agricultural youth safety specialist at the National Children’s Center; Marilyn Adams, founder, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids; Dennis Murphy, professor emeritus, Penn State University; and Jana Davidson, program manager, Progressive Agriculture Foundation.


“This anniversary has really given us time to reflect back at how this all got started, what has changed in our work, and what’s changed in the workers and work environment for children. There’s a lot of good things happening and a few challenges still ahead of us,” Lee said.


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