Federal Survey Shows Risks to Young Kids on Farms

By M.L. JOHNSON | December 23, 2013

Young children face an increased risk of injury on farms even though the overall number of youth hurt in agricultural accidents continues to decline, according to new federal data.

farmAn estimated 14,000 people younger than 20 were hurt on farms in 2012, about 2,000 fewer than in 2009, according to the Childhood Agricultural Injury Survey. Those results aren’t surprising given that fewer children are living on farms, said Barbara Lee, principal investigator for the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, which released the data this week.

Safety experts look instead to the rate of injury among children living on farms. That also dropped, from 9.9 injuries per 1,000 youth in 2009 to 8.15 in 2012.

But the injury rate among children younger than 10 increased during that time, from 6.6 to 11.3. The data do not provide a clear reason for the increase, Lee said, but most of the children in that age group likely were not working on the farm but were injured because they happened to be in a dangerous area.

“Farming in and of itself is one of the most dangerous occupations, so to have that child in that work setting, it’s equivalent to having a child in a construction site,” Lee said.

A breakdown of the causes for the injuries has not yet been released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which collected the data in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agencies conduct a telephone survey of 50,000 randomly chosen farms every two to three years. Lee’s center is part of NIOSH.

Previous surveys found children most commonly were hurt in falls. Equipment and heavy machinery, such as skid loaders and tractors, also account for many accidents.

In Wisconsin, known for its dairy farms, a major risk comes from livestock, which can kick or step on smaller children, Lee said.

A growing number of programs aim to reduce injuries among children on farms. One of the largest is the Progressive Agriculture Foundation, which provides hundreds of safety training programs each year on everything from tractor and ATV use to weather in the U.S. and Canada. In 2012, the programs had 79,000 participants, nearly all of them younger than 13.

A NIOSH-funded study showed children who participated in the programs reported fewer injuries, behaved in a safer manner and had a greater understanding of risks up to one year later.

That’s heartening, said Randy Bernhardt, the foundation’s chief administrative officer, but “our work is never done. Our vision is basically to put ourselves out of business someday. It’s lofty, that we will see no injuries or deaths on farms.”

Lee said safety programs help but the best way to prevent injuries among young children is to keep them out of barns, fields and other work areas.

“They’re not old enough to take care of themselves, they’re not predictable enough to put them in a dangerous environment, they’re just hanging out,” she said.

A common problem for farm families, however, is finding a safe place for children too young to stay in the house by themselves when their parents are working. Child care services often are geared toward parents who work regular hours during the weekday, and they frequently require long-term commitments.

“What many of these parents need is just during the harvest time, or if they have one of their workers on vacation,” Lee said. “And the parent may need child care at irregular hours.”

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