Employee & Community Health

Keeping kids safe on the farm

10/1/2018 by Dr. Jill Swanson

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Being on a farm can be so much fun for kids, whether they live there or are a visiting friend, grandchild or school group. Farms are a great place for adventure and learning. But farms are dangerous places, too, putting kids at risk for injuries and even death from encounters with animals, equipment and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Here are just a few facts and figures to bring home the danger kids face on the farm:

  • About 900,000 youth lived on farms and nearly 24 million visited farms in 2014.
  • Every day, about 33 children are injured in agriculture-related incidents.
  • Animals are the leading cause of injury.
  • Every three days, a child dies in a farm-related incident.
  • The leading causes of these deaths involve machinery (25%), motor vehicles, including ATVs (17%) and 16% were drownings.
  • For youth who work on a farm, tractors were the main cause of death, followed by ATVs.

Harvest is getting underway, shifting activity on the farm into high gear and increasing the risk of accidents and injuries. Many of the accidental injuries involving farm implements result in long-term disabilities like infections, amputation of extremities, loss of function, and tragically, death. Children are curious, and to them, the farm is a great big playground full of things to explore. But they don’t recognize or understand the risks or remember the rules for situations that may arise.

With these quick tips, the farm can be a safer place for kids to live, work and play:

  • Build a safe play area away from the action in the farmyard.
  • Fence areas with water and where animals are held.
  • Install fall protection in haylofts
  • Keep your eyes open! Children move fast, they’re small and hard to see when driving farm equipment and vehicles.
  • Keep kids away from and out of tractors. This includes letting them ride in the cab!
  • Fit the job to the child’s age, understanding and abilities when assigning chores.
  • Make wearing personal protective equipment a habit for kids doing farm work.
  • Know when your child is capable of safely driving a tractor or ATV. There’s NO evidence that children under 12 can safely operate an ATV, which, because of their design, can be more challenging than driving a car.
  • Don’t mix your worksite with child care. It’s hard to keep a close eye on children when you’re focusing on your farm work.
  • Supervise children around farm animals, including horses. They’re big, strong and unpredictable, and kids can get stepped on kicked, crushed, bitten, head butted or thrown. Even if the animals are seen as gentle, family pets, they’re still unpredictable animals.
  • Create a list of farm rules that school groups and other visitors must follow.

With Fall comes the opportunity to go to pumpkin patches, apple orchards, corn mazes and other great fun and educational activities. If you visit a farm with your family or your children go with a group or as a guest, remember it’s your responsibility to supervise them and stress that they follow any rules the farm family may have and to listen to instructions from any adults.

Living and working on a farm or just visiting is a wonderful experience for kids. Just remember these commonsense tips for keeping them safe from accidents and injuries. A great resource for information on how to keep kids safe on the farm is the Cultivate Safety website from the National Farm Medicine Center and National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. Check it out!

Dr. Jill Swanson practices in Employee and Community Health’s Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. One of her primary areas of interest is farm injuries among children.