Farm Safety for Young Children

Accidents kill more children than disease, kidnapping, and drugs combined. Each year, an estimated 300 people under age 19 die and approximately 24,000 (65 every day) are seriously hurt on our nation’s farms. The rate of death is higher in agriculture than in mining, construction, or the timber industry, and children who live on farms may be exposed to dangers 24 hours a day. In Iowa, at least one out of every eight-farm injuries is to a child. The most common causes of these injuries are from slips and falls, animals, farm machinery, and all-terrain vehicles.

Children are vulnerable to many of the same hazards as adults who live or work on farms, but they are far less capable of understanding those hazards. Although parents cannot completely childproof a farm, they need to make it as safe as possible. Here are ways to minimize exposure to common farm hazards for children under age eight, and several good safety practices that will provide back-up protection for them.

On the inside pages is a summary of a child’s growth and development as it relates to farm hazards, so families can provide supervision that’s right for each child.

Tractors and machinery are involved in three out of four farm injuries to children.

  • Never allow children to drive a tractor. They do not have skills or judgment to operate a tractor until about age 14.
  • Post “No Rider” decals on tractors and do not allow passengers, even in a cab or back of pick-up truck.
  • Never allow children in work areas, or allow them to play on idle machinery. When not in use, remove keys and keep out of reach.
  • Make sure master shields are secure on power take-off units and augers.
  • Always know where children are when backing up, and double-check blind spots.
  • Store properly; keep hydraulic equipment (front-end loaders) in down position, and lock brakes on self-propelled machinery.
  • Keep reflectors and rear lights in good condition, and make sure brakes work properly.

Livestock are unpredictable. They are linked to one of every five injuries on the farm.

  • Always supervise children under age eight around livestock, even when outside a fence. Do not count on them to be calm or not tease animals.
  • Never allow children independent access to animals.
  • Always wear hard shoes.
  • Beginning about age five, teach children simple rules about livestock such as how to treat them, where to stand, and which animals to avoid. But do not count on them to abide by rules until at least age eight.

One-third of all entrapments and suffocations in flowing grain involve children under age 14.

  • Never allow children to play in grain, ride in grain wagons, or get into bins or hoppers. Grain may fascinate children, but it acts like quicksand.
  • Never allow children in areas where grain is loaded or unloaded.
  • Never leave an auger or wagon unattended. Grain entrapments happen quickly and few adults are strong enough to rescue even a young child.
  • Post warning decals on wagons, bins.
  • Keep your children safe on the farm.
  • Supervision of young children presents unique challenges to farm families. No longer do we have family members close by or neighbors able to watch children.

Could I take them along when I work?
You may think it’s safe, and that your child is old enough to be responsible, but don’t expect more of children than they can deliver. Farm injuries happen when a child does something beyond the child’s ability.

Couldn’t they play on their own?
This may seem OK, especially if you or an older sibling is close by. But there are other factors to consider. Children under age eight often put themselves in danger. Children may not know how to handle unexpected situations (a sink overflowing, or a sudden storm). They may feel lonely, bored, insecure, or afraid (and not talk about it because they want to seem mature). They may get a premature sense of independence, and pay less attention to you. Guilt or worry about their children also may cause parents to hurry and put their own safety in jeopardy.

Consider child care ...
Farm families may not consider getting child care because of the expense, availability, extra time required for transportation, or feelings of guilt about leaving children in a strange place. Regardless of the hassles and hardships, arranged child care should be seriously considered for children under age eight when both parents are involved in farm work.

What are some choices?

  • Hire a baby-sitter or child care provider to come to your home.
  • Take children to a family child care home.
  • Set up a babysitting exchange with a friend during busy times.
  • Form a babysitting cooperative with other farm families.

Is it worth it?

  • The stigma, expense, and trouble of arranging for child care become trivial when compared to the stress, guilt, and expense when a child is injured or killed on the farm.
  • At least half of the U.S. deaths from pesticides are to children under age 10.
  • Understand why children are poisoned. They’re naturally curious, can be attracted to containers and bright colors, want to imitate parents, and tend to put things into their mouths.
  • Know what’s dangerous: pesticides and fertilizers; soaps, bleaches, starch, stain remover, and other cleaning products; drain cleaner; dairy pipeline cleaner; paints and related products; fuels; treated seed, and vegetation that is toxic (certain garden and household plants), or items that have been sprayed or treated.
  • Teach children at age two not to eat or drink anything unless given to them by a familiar adult.
  • Don’t expect them to abide by rules until at least age eight.

Teach children at age five to get permission before eating homegrown fruits and vegetables.

  • Do not allow children to be on recently treated grass or ground. Check label for safe re-entry time.
  • Use safety closures, although child resistant caps are only 35 percent effective even when used correctly.
  • If children accompany adults who bring meals to field workers during pesticide application season, make sure workers remove coveralls and wash hands with soap and water before touching family members, and that children stay in vehicle or on a clean blanket.
  • Keep toxic substances in original containers with label about first-aid procedures and chemicals involved.
  • Keep gas and fuel in proper containers.
  • Keep all toxic substances (including spigots, hoses, pumps, and rags) on high shelves in either a locked building or inaccessible area.
  • Never leave toxic products unattended during use, and avoid using poisons in front of children.
  • Do not mix poisons in containers once used for food or drink. Mark with poison decals. Rinse immediately and return to locked storage.
  • Discard dangerous substances properly in a way that children have no access to them.
  • Post danger signs around locked chemical storage areas.

Falls from farm machinery and in buildings are a major cause of injuries under age nine.

  • Never allow children to enter a farm building alone. Lock silos and bins.
  • Make fixed ladders inaccessible; store portable ladders out of reach.
  • Fence farm ponds and manure pits.
  • Cap wells with concrete.
  • Store tools out of reach; lock sheds.
  • Lock unloaded guns in separate location, away from locked ammunition.
  • Place unused dual tires flat on ground; do not prop against building or tree.

Electricity is always a danger for children, especially on farms.

  • For children under three, cover outlets; keep cords out of reach to prevent burns by chewing on cord, pulling down appliances, and strangulation; and keep children out of areas where heaters or fans are in use.
  • For all young children, shield all electrical boxes and wiring.
  • Unplug tools and appliances after use.

Learn more about farm safety
Iowa State University Extension has 36 free publications in the Safe Farm series (Pm-1265, Pm-1518, and Pm- 1563). Each fact sheet deals with a different type of hazard, ways to improve safety, and additional resources. Farm Safety 4 Just Kids (1-800-423-5437) also offers materials to teach children about safety.

It also helps to understand when injuries are most likely to happen. A young child’s newly developing skills may catch parents unprepared. A change from the familiar—new furniture, guests, or routines—may present new dangers or distractions.

Injuries often happen when we’re busy, tired, in a hurry, or when children are hungry or tired. On the farm, most injuries occur in summer and fall, and in late afternoon, early evening, or on Saturdays. Child care is needed most during these times.

Prevention includes preparation. Teach children what to do in an emergency. Even a three-year-old can press a button on a programmed telephone. Since most children under age eight are not good readers of unfamiliar words, use symbols on your emergency telephone list.

A safe outdoor play area away from livestock, traffic, and machinery is essential for children growing up on a farm. A fence helps separate play from work environments, however, young children still need close supervision.

The best safeguard against farm injuries is for parents to understand the development of their children and to provide a safe environment for them.