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Safety is an everyday deal

Chuck Schwartau
Extension Educator – Livestock

August 24, 2013

Safety on the farm is something that needs to be practiced every day and by everyone on the farm. It makes no difference whether the task is large or small, the hazards are the same. Sometimes the small ones might even lull people into a lax attitude and result in a huge event.

A few weeks ago, a central Minnesota man and his young grandson were killed when the tractor they were using rolled over. Reports suggest this may have been a hobby farm using older and smaller equipment. This type of equipment seldom has modern safety features like ROPS (Roll Over Protective Structure). Tractors of this type are used on many farms for mowing large lawns and road banks. That is a recipe for an incident in itself. The second mistake in this event was having another passenger, especially a child, on the tractor along with the operator. We all want to give our youngsters an opportunity to learn and experience what we do on the farm, but the loss of a young life is a high price for that experience. Most equipment is not designed to carry passengers, so don't!

A second incident was reported in Wisconsin just a few days later. In this case a man was mowing grass with a trailer-type mower behind an ATV. The ATV apparently had a cargo tray on the back and several children were riding in the cargo tray. One reached for a branch and fell off the ATV and under the mower. One even hates to think about that tragedy and the trauma the other children and the father experienced.

Common themes in these two incidents are children and equipment. In both cases the children were on equipment not intended for passengers. There aren't safety belts, cages or anything else to protect people on many of these implements. The now popular side by side ATV's usually have seat belts, but they need to be used in order to be effective, and they aren't found in cargo trays. Tractors with ROPS also have seat belts but again they have to be used properly in order to be effective.

Children develop at slightly different rates, and every parent probably thinks their children are more advanced and prepared than others for helping with tasks around the farm, but we still need to remember they are children. They haven't developed all the reasoning skills, physical strength, and reaction time to operate modern farm equipment – or old equipment. It is important that children not be given or allowed to work at tasks for which they simply are not prepared.

The Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (Marshfield, Wisconsin) has a national reputation in the areas of farm medicine and farm safety programming. One of the excellent tools they have developed is the North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT). This set of guidelines helps determine a child's stage of development and judgment for tasks. The program also includes excellent fact sheets about how children develop skills and abilities for farm work and tools to help you assess your child's readiness for the multitude of tasks involving livestock and equipment around your farm.

he Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation's website is This site features many of the programs I have discussed and the tools offered to help parents keep children safe on the farm. The website is full of resources that can make your farm a safer place to live and work.

Another great source for training lessons for farms is located at This company is a major supplier of safety equipment and has an extensive list of ready to use safety lessons in both English and Spanish – free of charge. Go to the webpage and click on the link to "Safety Training Sheets".

Regardless of all the programs and equipment suggested for a safer workplace, it still all comes down to the people on the workplace practicing what they know and doing it all the time It means having the proper training and equipment on the farm so all those working there know what to use and how to use it safely. It means farm owners need to set good examples by using proper protective equipment and safe operating procedures. It means keeping children from unsafe areas and tasks on the farm.

In closing, you may have noticed I did not use the word "accident" in this article. One source defines an accident as "an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance". The incidents I described at the beginning of this article were the result of judgmental errors. While we have to extend sympathy to those families, the possible results should have been foreseen. They were tragedies waiting to happen. Don't make the headlines with such a tragedy in your family.

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