The family farm has always been a place
where work, play and life's other activities
intertwine at a single location. Generations
passed on their beliefs, values, and work
ethics to succeeding generations through
shared activities on the farm. Today,
however, the pastoral farming lifestyle is
becoming a high-tech industry. Although the
farm has always had its share of hazards,
modern agriculture has become one of the
nation's most perilous industries. Because
children live and play on the work site, they
are exposed to potentially dangerous
situations every day.
It is not technically feasible to eliminate
all hazards from a farm- stead. Farm families,
therefore, must be able to identify hazards,
know their children's capabilities, and
develop appropriate responses to protect
Each child is unique, with his or her own
level of development, judgment, and
maturity. A child's perspective is different
from an adult's, and trying to predict how
children will react to a situation on any
given day is next to impossible.
Nevertheless, psychologists have
identified some general childhood
characteristics based on age groups.
Infant/Toddler (Birth to Two Years):
Within a short 24-month period, a totally
dependent baby develops into a very
active, mobile explorer, experiencing the
environment, at first, through taste and
touch. Newly discovered mobility
motivates toddlers to climb onto and into
things that were not designed for them.
Because of rapid physical changes, their
mastery of skills is inconsistent, and falls
are a common cause of injury. Toddlers
cannot judge what is safe, so parents
need to be aware of what the child is
doing at all times.
Preschool (Three to Five Years):
Preschoolers love to climb, and they tend
to gravitate toward water, interesting
noises, and moving parts. They also
imitate the behavior of others, especially
that of people who are important to them.
Preschoolers think "magically" rather
than logically. They believe that if they
want to do something, they can, with no
regard for risks and consequences.
Because preschoolers are strong- willed
negotiators, they increase the risk of
being injured by insisting on, for example,
having "just one ride" on the tractor or
Early School Age (Six to Eight Years):
Youngsters can understand danger at
this age, but because they have short
attention spans and are easily distracted,
they may still get into trouble without
realizing it. Children this age are very
curious and work hard to master physical
skills. In striving to be competent and
accepted by peers and adults, they
attempt tasks that may not be appropriate
for their abilities.
Middle Years (Nine to Eleven Years):
During these years, children are group
oriented, but they also are striving to
develop a sense of self and to experience
achievement. They exhibit logical
thinking, but not consistently. One minute
they appear to under- stand cause and
effect, the next minute they don't.
Children in this age group have a "handson"
orientation, and in their desire to be a
part of the farm family, they may
overestimate their capabilities. Size
variations are great during this
developmental stage. Parents may think
that taller children are more able to do
adult tasks, but this may not be the case.
Adolescence (Twelve and Older):
Early teens are often awkward and
clumsy. During this growth period, their
hands and feet grow more rapidly than
the rest of their bodies and lack of
coordination is common. Adolescents
may have a keen interest in
experimenting, a resistance to
supervision and authority, and a
perception of being immortal. These traits
create added risks for youths in this age
group when they participate in a farm's
Injuries are the leading cause of death for
children past the age of one. It is
estimated that 23,500 farm children are
injured annually while working or playing
on the farm. Tractors and equipment
contribute to most of those injuries. Falls
and encounters with animals are the next
two most common causes.
Accidents do not "just happen"; they
usually involve an error in judgment.
Because the ability to perceive danger
and react safety is a learned behavior,
children need regular, consistent training
and appropriate examples to follow.
Ultimately, it is the adult's
responsibility to ensure the safety of a
child. That responsibility includes
supervision, the making and enforcement
of rules, protection against hazards, and
Supervision is vital to the safety of
children of all ages and should never be
viewed as an intrusion. Guidelines for
- Know where children are at all times.
- Explore play groups, day care, or
other adult supervision for children
when both parents are working.
Concentrating on work and watching
a child at the same time puts both the
parent and the child at risk.
- Provide safety training for young
people working on the farm.
Experience has shown that they often
receive little, if any, safety training.
When youths begin helping with
chores and tasks, it is essential that
they be trained and familiarized with
a job's procedures and equipment.
Explain, observe, and correct as
needed. Positive comments from
adults encourage desired behavior.
- Keep young children from playing in
areas with high levels of noise or
dust. Exposure to loud machinery,
grain processing areas, or similar
environments can lead to cumulative
hearing loss and permanent damage
to respiratory systems. Older children
working in those areas should be
required to use dust masks and
- Don't allow children to move
containers, hay bales, or other
objects that are too heavy for them.
Rules are made to protect lives, not "to
be broken," as the old proverb states. Be
firm in your convictions. Start by
enforcing these simple rules:
- NO PASSENGERS are allowed on
any tractor or piece of equipment.
One seat means one rider.
- Children are not allowed to play on
farm equipment, especially tractors.
Machinery may look like fun, but it is
not play equipment. A proper play
area can be built using a commercial
kit or with some creative effort. A
child's safety is worth the expense.
- Work areas are off-limits for playing.
Tour the farm and set limits as to
where children can play. Silos, grain
bins, and hay mows look inviting but
may produce deadly results.
- Children and adults must always tell
each other where they are and what
they are doing. Make this a standard
practice for everyone on the farm.
Eliminating all potential hazards may be
impossible, but removing some of the
more common ones can save lives and
prevent injuries. A few practical
Install and Maintain Guards and
- Keep pesticides, veterinary
medicines, and milk house chemicals
out of the reach of young children.
Store them in their original containers
in a locked cabinet or shed. Rinse out
empty containers and dispose of
- Remove junk piles, and store raw
materials safely. To young children
these look like great areas to play
- Unplug power tools when they are
not in use.
- Empty pails of water, waste oil, and
other liquids that can attract curious
toddlers. Drowning can occur in just a
few inches of water.
- Do not leave heavy objects like
tractor tires leaning against walls.
Children may pull them over on top of
themselves while playing. Store
heavy or large objects securely in
- Keep guns in locked storage cabinets
out of the reach of children. Store
- Provide a fenced play area for young
children to keep them away from
potentially hazardous areas.
- Elevate ladders leading to structures,
like silos, at least 7 feet off the
ground to prevent children from
Mechanical shields and barriers are
meant to protect people from dangerous
equipment and situations. Make certain
- All moving parts on equipment and
tractors are properly guarded. Install
and maintain complete PTO master
shields and guards on all tractors and
equipment. Removing guards to save
a few minutes while hooking up or
repairing equipment is not worth
- Farm ponds and liquid manure
storage facilities have fencing that
children cannot climb over or
squeeze through. These are potential
- Livestock gates and fences are
sturdy and secure to prevent
unwanted contact between children
- Electrical boxes are covered and no
bare wires are exposed to minimize
the possibility of electrocution.
- Fan installations are equipped with
guards to prevent curious little hands
and fingers from getting too close to
Adults often assume that the safe way of
doing something is obvious, but acting
safety is a learned behavior that takes
time and practice. Parents and
supervising adults can educate children
about farm safety in the following ways:
- Teach young children to stay away
from containers that look unfamiliar
or are marked "poison."
- Post emergency phone numbers
(including Poison Control) on every
phone, along with clearly written
directions about how to get to your
farm. Teach children as soon as
possible how to report an emergency.
- Teach children how to act safely
around animals. Their eagerness to
be near an animal may place them in
danger. (See the Farm Safety Fact
Sheet "Safe Animal Handling")
- Explain to children why they are not
allowed to ride on tractors and other
equipment. Make them aware that
children their age can fall from
moving equipment and discuss what
- Tell children, even the very young,
where off-limit areas are.
- As children grow older, explain why
certain activities, areas, and
equipment are dangerous, so they
will better understand the rules.
- As older children and teens become
workers, take time to train them. Ask
them to explain in their own words
how they are going to perform the
task at hand and make sure they fully
understand the job.
- Realize that children occasionally
forget to act or work in a safe
manner. Check on them frequently,
and correct unsafe behaviors
- Remember that education most often
takes place when children watch
others; be a safety conscious role
model. Remind older siblings that
they are also role models and their
behavior will be imitated.
Farms can be a great place to raise
children and continue a valued way of
life, but they can also be full of hazards,
especially for youngsters. By providing
attentive supervision, making and
enforcing rules, taking appropriate
precautions with equipment and work
areas, and educating children, farm
environments can be made healthy and safe for the entire
family. When there are children on the
farmstead, it is important to keep in mind
several key points:
- Children are unpredictable and prone
to forget safety lessons.
- Children live for today, with little
thought of the risks and
consequences of their actions.
- Each child is an individual with his or
her own temperament, abilities, and
level of maturity.
- Children, no matter how well they
have been taught, are still going to
behave like children..
Finally, it is critical to remember that
safety on the farm is always an adult
Power Take-Off Safety
Lightning Protection for Farms
Slow Moving Vehicle Emblems
Electrical Safety on the Farm
Safe Animal Handling
This publication is issued to further Cooperative
Extension work mandated by acts of Congress of
May 8 and June 30, 1914. It was produced with the
cooperation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
Cornell Cooperative Extension; the New York State
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, New York
State College of Human Ecology, and New York
State College of Veterinary Medicine, at Cornell
Designer: Dennis R Kulis
Editor: David A. Poland
Illustrations by Jim Houghton
For additional information: call 1-877-257-9777
Cornell Agricultural Health & Safety Program
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in
NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in
NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder.