Keeping Farm Children Safe

  • Shutske, John M.

Two-year old Heather rides on her father's lap in the tractor cab as dad mows his field. Distracted by a butterfly at the window, she slips off his lap and is jostled against the door, which swings open. She falls out and is crushed by the tractor's rear wheel before her father has time to react. Her death is reported as another "tragic farm accident."

Each year, hundreds of children like Heather are hurt or killed while playing or working on the family farm. Farm accidents involving children may seem unpredictable and random. It may seem that they can't be prevented. Some people even believe they are simply "the price of farming."

In fact, farm accidents to children are not random. They are very predictable. And almost all of them could be prevented, according to child and farm safety experts.

Farm injuries happen when a child is doing something that is beyond his or her mental, physical or emotional ability. As they grow, all children pass through a series of developmental stages that take them from toddler to teenager. The physical changes are obvious, as a child grows taller and stronger. But along with physical changes come changes in mental and emotional development that are sometimes harder to recognize.

By understanding the stages of a child's growth and development and by providing careful supervision and training that's right for each stage, parents and other adults can protect farm kids.

The chart on the back describes typical developmental stages, risks that farm kids at each stage may take, and appropriate protective measures. How well does this chart describe the youngest farmers in your household or community? Are there ways you can better protect the farm children you care about?

Characteristics Typical Risks Protective Measures

Unable to understand cause and effect
Illogical, "magic" thinking
Fascinated by movement or moving parts
May love to climb

Drinking or eating poison
Falling off farm equipment or pickup truck
Drowning in pond or manure pit
Wandering into highway

Careful supervision at home or in childcare
Physical barriers such as locks & fences
Safe distractions
Prohibiting riding on farm machinery
Early School Age (5-9)

Inconsistent use of logic
Wishes to appear competent
Wants adult approval
Not aware of realistic dangers-more fearful of kidnapping or war than of much more likely farm accident

Livestock kicks or crushing
Entanglement in augers or other moving machinery
Falling out of tractor or pickup

Consistent rules
Discussion of safe behavior
Assignment of simple farm chores, with careful supervision
Bike safety training and use of bike helmet
Older School Age (10-13)

Greater physical and mental skills
Physical development may outstrip mental or emotional maturity
Wants social and peer acceptance
Wishes to practice new skills without constant adult supervision

Operating machinery designed for adults.
Being struck by a car while riding bicycle
Falling from hay loft or ladder

Consistent rules, with consequences for infractions and rewards for safe behavior
Bike safety classes, use of bike helmet
Deliberate, planned increases in chores and responsibilities
Specific education on farm hazard avoidance
Adolescent (13-16)

Desire to experiment
Strong need for peer acceptance
Resistance to adult authority

Machinery rollover or roadway accident
Hearing loss from exposure to loud machinery
Head or spine injury from motorcycle or ATV accident

Education from peers who have experienced injury or illness themselves
Consistent rules, with predictable consequences for infractions and rewards for safe behavior
Motorcycle and ATV safety education and use of helmets
Involvement in farm safety projects through 4-H, FFA and other groups
Young Adult (16-18)

Increasing sense of adult responsibility and competence
Desire to be supportive, take on adult share of farm work
Need to take risks
Feeling of "immortality"

Same as adult risks: respiratory illness, tractor or machinery rollover or entanglement, hearing loss, muscle or bone injuries
Additional risk from experimentation with alcohol or drugs

Clear and consistent rules regarding drugs and alcohol
Rewards for acceptance of adult responsibilities
Opportunity to be role model, teaching younger children about farm safety

If you'd like to know more about child farm safety, contact your local extension agent, or State Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Specialist.

Produced by the Educational Development System, University of Minnesota Extension Service.

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