Farms Are Risky Places For Children

  • Hallman, Eric M.

Every year between 175 and 300 children are killed in the United States while working or playing on the farm. Another 23,000 are seriously injured. New York State farms are not immune from such tragedies.

Why are children at such risk on farms? Part of the answer lies within the structure of the agricultural industry. Production agriculture employs many individuals whose age is outside of that found in other industries -- below the age of 18 and over the age of 62.

Children on farms are often exposed to a wide array of occupational and environmental hazards that are not present in other industries. In addition to young individuals who work on the farm, many youngsters live and play around the farm exposing themselves to hazards that are uniquely dangerous.

Children take on many roles around the farm including working, accompanying adults, and playing. Agriculture-related injuries can occur during all of these facets of farm life.

Many children are injured while working. Injuries can occur when children operate and work around machinery. Injury scenarios can include tractor rollovers, falls from equipment or ladders, and entanglement in power take-off shafts and other machine components such as augers. Children are injured during livestock-related chores, such as feeding animals or cleaning out livestock pens, and are most often kicked, bitten, or crushed by animals much larger than themselves.

What you can do:

  1. Make sure that a child is old enough (physically and mentally capable) to safely complete a job.
  2. Before allowing a child to operate or work around machinery, train them in its proper operation, making sure that the child understands the following:
    • how to shut off the machine
    • the basic theory of how the machine functions
    • what aspects of the machine present special hazards
  3. Allow the child worker to take rest breaks when tired.
  4. Remember that the child's understanding of the machine is not as thorough as yours.

Children have been injured while accompanying adults. As the extra rider, numerous children have been run over after falling off of a tractor. Too many children have been injured or killed by riding on trailed equipment and falling off, sometimes going underneath the equipment itself. Children riding in grain trucks and gravity-flow unloading wagons have been suffocated by flowing grain.

What you can do:

  1. For your child's sake do not let them ride on equipment unless it is specifically designed for an extra rider.
  2. Do not let youngsters enter a grain truck, wagon, or grain bin, especially when the grain is flowing.
  3. Always keep an accompanying child within eyesight. Know their whereabouts at all times.

Children are injured while playing. The farmyard can seem like a giant playground just waiting to be explored and conquered. The painful reality is that kids are injured while playing in work areas or while watching someone else work.

All too real examples include: being backed over by trucks, tractors, and implements; falling off of ladders, hay mows, or through floors; becoming entangled in augers, power take-offs, or gutter cleaners; ingesting milk pipeline cleaner, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals; and falling into and drowning in manure pits, lagoons, wells, stock tanks, and ponds.

What you can do:

  1. Provide a play area that is fenced off from machinery and other hazards.
  2. Designate hazardous farm areas as "off limits" to children.
  3. Make sure you know where your children are at all times.
  4. Be sure ladders that are "off limits" end at least seven feet above the ground to prevent child access.
  5. Do not leave pesticide or caustic cleaner containers in child accessible areas.
  6. Do not let youngsters play in grain bins, grain trucks, or grain wagons.
  7. Maintain your equipment and be sure that all guards and shields are in place and functioning.

Eric Hallman, Safety Engineer, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell

Source: Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Provider: Ag Information Services -- News & Publications, Penn State
August 2, 1993.

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