The 2019 death of an 8-year old on a Wisconsin farm recently made state and national headlines after ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel conducted investigations and co-published an article regarding the events that lead to the child’s death, and how the police investigation of the circumstances missed key details in how the child died.
As a result of the investigations and resulting articles, there is renewed awareness of safety risks faced by children on farms.
According to Barbara Lee, director of the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, “agriculture in and of itself is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country.” While there are no official numbers for the United States, Lee believes that, “on average, there’s about 100 deaths on farms across the country and about four of those happen in Wisconsin each year.” Lee has also reviewed data that shows that young children, ages 7 and under, are more at risk for injuries on farms.1
Lee stated that the most common scenarios of farm accidents involving young children are when young children are taken on joyrides on tractors, and the tractor hits a bump, a curb or a ditch, and the child falls out and is then run over. Despite the recent negative coverage on risks faced by children on farms, Lee believes that it is important to acknowledge farms are still great places for children to grow up and work. The question then becomes how parents and employers can get children acquainted with the farm environment in safest way possible.2
Eliza M. Reyes, John Marshall 1997, is an attorney with Steinhilber Swanson LLP in Madison, where her practice focuses on financial issues before the bankruptcy, federal, and state courts.
Farm Safety Resources
While Lee acknowledges that safety courses for children, such as farm and tractor safety courses in Wisconsin, are less accessible than they used to be due to funding issues, there are still several resources available for farmers and their families to obtain information on child farm safety.3
The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, according to its website, is one of 11 agricultural centers funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the only center dedicated to childhood agricultural injury prevention. According to its website, the Center leads the “development and dissemination of knowledge products and intervention strategies for childhood agricultural health and safety.”
The Center’s website describes some of the research currently being conducted by the Center, as well as providing interventions and sources for farmers and ranchers which have been developed and tested over the last two decades. The Center also provides several resources, including previously sponsoring free safety workshops focusing on youths working in agriculture and farm youth mental health. The Center’s other resources includes publications such as the 2022 U.S. Childhood Agricultural Injuries Fact Sheet which provides statistics on injuries suffered by children under 18 on farms from 2001 to 2021.
The Center also developed its sister website, Cultivate Safety, to provide farmers, ranchers, and their employees and families easy access to information and free resources.
The resources available on the Cultivate Safety website include information on creating, using, and maintaining safe play areas on farms; and links to other websites, online tools, and additional materials to assist with farm safety and supervision. Work guideline booklets which parents and supervisors can use to assist them with assigning age and ability appropriate tasks for children working on farms are also available on the Cultivate Safety website. The work guideline booklets, which are available in English, Spanish, and French, describe how to use the guidelines and include additional information on topics such as supervision, child development, and considerations for children hired to work on farms.
Another resource available to farmers and their families is the Wisconsin Youth Tractor & Machinery Safety Certification program conducted by the U.W. Madison Farm Management Division of Extension.
The Youth Tractor Safety program is designed to meet requirements established by the U.S. Department of Labor which pertains to special provisions made for the employment of youths ages 14 to 15 on farms that are not operated by their parents.
In order for youths to successfully complete the Youth Tractor Safety Program, they must:
attend 24 hours of instructional training;
pass a written exam with a score of 70% or greater; and
pass a driving exam which demonstrates competent tractor driving ability in a course with a trailed implement.
The Youth Tractor Safety Program’s curriculum includes modules on:
General Farm and Ranch Safety Overview;
Tractor Component Basics;
Tractor Pre-Operational Procedures; and
Tractor Operation Basics.
The entire list of modules, and detailed information each, can be found on the Gearing Up for Safety website.
Conclusion: Minimizing Risks
By implementing safety strategies and resources found on the websites discussed herein, farmers, ranchers, their families and employees can hopefully continue to experience the benefits of farm and ranch life, while minimizing the risks.
1 “After child death on Wisconsin Farm, center director offers advice to keep kids safe,” Wisconsin Public Radio, April 10, 2023.