Child Safety: Recommendations shared to prevent pediatric ag-related injuries
In a Sept. 22 webinar hosted by AgriSafe Network, Dr. Charles Jennissen, a clinical professor in the Clinical Departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, shares his knowledge on pediatric agriculture-related injuries and how to safeguard children who visit or live on working ranches and farms.
Jennissen discusses several situations in which children are at risk for serious injury and even death in agricultural settings.
“Tractors remain the main cause of fatal agricultural injuries,” shares Jennissen, noting many kids operate equipment at a very young age, sometimes long before they are mentally or physically capable. “In a Successful Farming survey, parents were asked what age they allowed their children to drive and the average age for both girls and boys is 10 years.”
“One of the biggest killers is motor vehicle crashes (MVC),” shares Jennissen. A collision involving a farm vehicle is five times more likely to result in a fatality than other types of MVCs.
“A very common way for this to happen is a left turn collision,” he explains.
In an effort to turn left, tractor operators will often swing to the right to make a wide left turn, and it will appear to the motorist behind them that the tractor driver is getting over to allow them to pass. This is when accidents occur, according to Jennissen.
In addition, there are several other risk factors when driving a tractor on public roads, says Jennissen.
“Rear-end collisions are also quite common, and it can be easy to misjudge slow moving vehicles,” Jennissen shares.
“If you’re traveling 55 miles per hour (mph) it only takes five seconds to close the gap the length of a football field,” says Jennissen. “Farm equipment takes up a lot of space on roads and people can misjudge this. Slow moving vehicles should have proper lighting and a slow-moving vehicle emblem to help make them more visible to traffic.”
According to Wyoming Statues Title 31, “Every combination of farm tractor and towed farm equipment or towed implement of husbandry or units towed by special mobile equipment normally operating at speeds not in excess of 25 mph shall at all times be equipped with a slow-moving vehicle emblem.”
Jennissen shares, “One study found one-quarter of all tractor-related deaths that include children are less than 12 years of age and a peak of one to four years of age due to extra riders.”
“Virtually, all tractors have one seat,” says Jennissen. Many times, he notes, when a child sits on a fender, lap, stands on the back of a hitch or sits in a bucket and the tractor hits a bump, the child loses their grip and may easily fall under the tractor.
Additionally, children can become acclimated and desensitized to the danger of recreational vehicles and view tractors as a way to get a ride, says Jennissen.
“Children know they can get rides on the vehicle and they run out into the farm yard where work is being done with a skid steer or tractor,” he continues. “If the operator doesn’t expect to have a child there, all of a sudden, a child is being run over.”
In addition to the risks posed to children riding in a tractor, rollovers are also responsible for a portion of tractor related deaths.
“Side rollovers are the most common accident,” Jennissen shares, noting 85 percent of rollovers involve sloping land or ditches. “The other 15 percent make up rear rollovers, which occur when there is an unsafe hitch arrangement or when trying to remove a non-mobile object.”
He continues, “In 1985, U.S. tractor manufacturers adopted a voluntary standard that all new tractors would have a Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS) and a seat belt in order to keep the operator within the critical zone protection afforded by the ROPS.”
Jennissen concludes, many kids learn how to drive on older tractors where 30 to 70 percent do not have ROPS.
“All families should be encouraged to have older tractors retrofitted with ROPS if they can, “he says.
Jennissen mentions many manufacturers have made ROPS available for their tractors built after 1960-70s, and some farmers have not taken advantage of this.
All-terrain vehicles and side-by-sides
In addition to tractor risks, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and side-by-sides (SxS) increase risk for fatality. Jennissen notes, “ATVs and SxSs are the second most common source of injury and death in agriculture across all ages.”
“The first four-wheeler came to market in 1979 called the LT-125,” he says. Since the late 1990s, ATVs have gotten a lot bigger and more powerful, weighing between 700 and 800 pounds and traveling 70 to 80 mph.
Crush Protection Devices (CPDs) were developed as an after-market device, according to Jennissen. They include both the Quadbar and ATV Lifeguard.
“CPDs are designed to either prevent the ATV from rolling over or to create a protective zone so the vehicle is less likely to strike the operator or pin them,” says Jennissen.
Jennissen suggests education is essential in teaching farm and ranch safety to middle school-aged children.
The Safety Tips for ATV Riders (STARS) Program provides valuable information for youth ATV riders. The 10 stars include: “Always wear a helmet, one person at a time, ride the right size machine, always wear protective gear, never ride on the road, take a safety course, tell someone where you are going, respect private property, never use alcohol or drugs and always obey the rules.”
In addition to STARS, in case of a rollover with an ATV or SxS, passengers should keep all extremities inside the structure.
“Parents should carefully assess family members’ readiness to operate an ATV,” Jennissen says. “Not all youth have the size, strength, skills or maturity to safely operate an ATV.”
Jennissen adds, “The best practice is for children to avoid driving on the road for farm purposes whenever possible and remember helmets can reduce risk of head injury by 80 percent.”
There are many factors that put youth at risk for injury and even death.
Jennissen shares, “On the farm, restrictions, guidelines and boundaries need to be set early and enforced so children learn where they can play safely.”
A fenced-in area for children to play may be a first line of defense, but childcare is key.
It’s important for agricultural youth to continue their involvement, as they are the next generation of agriculturists, but there are several ways a child may become injured that parents need to consider.
Jennissen concludes, “The North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT), developed by the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety is a great resource for parents wanting to know how their children can safely be involved in farming and ranching activities.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.