Our Views: Parents responsible for keeping children safe around farms

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Friday, January 10, 2014

A poignant little poster hangs in the office of Jim Stute, UW Extension crops and soils agent for Rock County.

It shows a middle-aged farmer driving a tractor with a towheaded boy, perhaps age 4, on his lap. In big letters, the poster reads: “It’s easier to bury a tradition than a child.”

The message from the Childhood Agricultural Safety Network also says: “Tractors are responsible for 41 percent of the accidental farm deaths of children under 15, yet four out of five farm children regularly ride tractors with family members. While riding the tractor may be a family tradition, it’s easier to bury a tradition than a child.”

Stute is leaving for a new job with the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy on Jan. 31. It’s unfortunate if that means the poster goes with him and local farmers no longer see its message. More should heed it.

Farming always has been and always will be a dangerous business. Decades ago, any number of hazards lay in wait for the careless farmer—a fall from a haymow, a runaway horse, an angry bull. While education and better equipment with safety features help reduce risks, dangers still lurk daily. Safety shields do no good if a farmer removes them while repairing machinery and doesn’t replace them. Stepping over a spinning power takeoff shaft still could prove deadly. And a tractor on a hillside remains at risk of rolling; heaven forbid a child is riding along when it does.

Federal data released last month show about 14,000 people younger than 20 were injured on farms in 2012. Fortunately, that’s about 2,000 fewer than in 2009, according to the Childhood Agricultural Injury Survey. That’s no surprise because fewer children live on farms, Barbara Lee, principal investigator for the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, told The Associated Press. So experts calculated the rate of farm injuries and found these also dropped, from 9.9 per 1,000 children in 2009 to 8.15 in 2012.

Unfortunately, the injury rate among kids younger than 10 leaped from 6.6 per thousand to 11.3. Data didn’t show a clear reason, but Lee surmised most children that young are injured not because they’re working on farms but because they were in dangerous areas. She noted that, in Wisconsin, livestock poses major risks because an animal can kick or step on a child.

No doubt, in some families, children too immature to understand dangers wind up in work areas or tagging along because lone parents operating the farm must watch the kids while the other parents work off the farm to supplement the income. This scenario happens as fluctuating commodity prices and bad weather stretch farm finances.

While family circumstances can dictate how safe children are on a farm, the adults should keep safety, these new statistics and that poster in mind.

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