Kids who grow up on farms often play in the cow pasture or cornfield, jump on hay bales before dad gets them, or drive the tractor to help during hay season. It is common for them to scuff up their knees or bang up elbows.
However, farms are dangerous places and sometimes the injuries are more serious.
According to the National Ag Safety Database, every day, 33 children sustain agriculture-related injuries. Every three days, a child dies because of an agriculture-related incident.
Farm families are encouraged to be more cautious when it comes to life on the farm.
Youth Agricultural Safety Specialist Marsha Salzwedel said, “Children on farms and ranches can experience a fairly wide variety of injuries, from something as small as a scraped knee or cut finger to something as large as an amputated limb or death. Cuts, sprained joints, pulled muscles, broken bones and back injuries are other examples of injuries experienced by farm children.”
The three most common causes of injuries are falls, animals and machinery, such as tractors, said Salzwedel. When it comes to fatalities on the farm, they are often prompted by tractors and machinery, ATVs and other vehicles, and drowning. In fact, she said, over half of the child injuries on farms happen to children who are not working.
“There are more youth who die working in agriculture than in all other industries combined,” said Salzwedel. “Many of these deaths and injuries sustained by working youth are a result of doing work that is not consistent with their age and abilities.”
According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety (NCCRAH), tractors cause over 40 percent of accidental farm deaths in children under 15. “For non-working children who are riding as extra riders, they sometimes fall off and get run over or are hurt from the fall. This happens, even in the presence of cabs.
“There are numerous incidents of children falling against doors that then open, doors popping open due to bumps, and where children reach out to grab on and accidently open the door,” she said. “We even have an incident in our database where a child was riding in a combine that hit a rut in the field, causing the windshield to shatter—the child fell through the broken windshield and into the header of the machine.”
Field of vision around equipment is sometimes limited, especially with larger machines or when transporting things like round bales. Children, and adults, sometimes get run over, simply because they were not seen, she explained.
Rollovers have posed a number of problems with ATVs, as they have a high center of gravity and tend to tip easily during operation, requiring the rider to operate them “actively” by shifting their weight and leaning. Passengers on ATVs inhibit the ability to do this, and also add additional weight that doesn’t shift as needed. Tires are not designed for paved roads, so they grip the road improperly, making it very easy for them to roll, even on a flat surface, she explained. In addition, the fact that many youth don’t wear helmets, or seatbelts on UTVs, increases the likelihood of serious injury in the event of a collision or rollover.
According to the NCCRAH, drowning is the third top cause of injuries and fatalities. Factors that often contribute are a lack of fencing or other barriers around these structures, letting children watch water troughs or grain wagons being filled, and lack of supervision.
“Children and youth can drown in farm ponds, water troughs, manure pits, and we even have an incident where a child drowned in a pail of water. Depending on your data source, some systems even classify grain engulfment as drowning,” she shared.
Taking safety measures
As the next generation of agriculturalists are learning more about the ways of farming, it is critical to ensure safety precautions are being taken. “The best way to prevent these injuries is to keep young children out of the farm worksite,” Salzwedel said. “This would mean not giving them rides on tractors or taking them into the barn during milking. Having children in childcare centers or safe play areas, rather than the farm worksite, would prevent many of these injuries and deaths.”
Salzwedel also recommends assessing a youth’s abilities, both physical and cognitive. If they are assigned work consistent with their abilities, many of these injuries and fatalities can be avoided. Using Agricultural Youth Work Guidelines will help a parent or supervisor determine if a youth has the ability to safely perform a job. — Loren Lindler, DTN editorial intern