I was once told by a nationally renowned horse trainer that when you put the human in the saddle that is when the “unpredictable” can happen. And that is also the case when you farm -- the unexpected and unpredictable can happen.
Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calls farming the fourth most dangerous career with 41.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
This past year, there was a big discussion on farm safety regarding youngsters working around farms. Changes were proposed regarding child labor on farms, but the effort was rescinded after an outcry from the agricultural community.
Having kids work on farms is a longstanding tradition of the agricultural community. On one hand, a farm is a great place for them to learn life lessons, develop a work ethic and even if a career in farming is not their goal, an appreciation for what it takes grow crops and raise livestock.
On the other hand, there is no greater tragedy than when a child is hurt or killed in a farm accident.
At a farm safety workshop for journalists, one reporter shared an experience with one farm family. At the time of the interview, the parents were vehement about the importance of their young kids being involved with the farmwork. Less than a month later, one of their children was involved in an accident, leaving the mother regretting some of her decisions.
Another family shared a story at a Pennsylvania Dairy Summit about how they adapted to achieve the farm safety, farm responsibility balance. The parents recognized that farming had changed since their own childhoods and created a “farm within a farm” to provide their children a safe environment to learn basic farm chores.
As a parent myself of two young boys, deciding what to allow my kids to do is a constant challenge.
According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health Safety, the key to assigning farm responsibilities is not by age, but by maturity. Simple questions based of focus, ability to do comparable tasks and strength help to guide parents through the process. It also provides standards for supervision.
However, the safety discussion cannot stop with children. It also extends to everyone involved in farming. Routine maintenance of tractors and equipment, using common sense when handling livestock and following proper use of safety equipment are just a few of the things farmers and their employees can do to minimize risk.
And I, like many farmers, have been involved in farm accidents, a couple of which have ended with me in the emergency room having to explain what happened. So this week, as we pause to recognize the importance of farm safety, take time to look around the farm and the homestead, and look for places where we could improve safety.
-- Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade, Special Sections Editor