Keep Farm Workers and Youth Safe During Harvest Season

While farms can be a great place to live, work and play, they can also be dangerous. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S and the only worksite where children of any age can be present. Harvest season brings a busy time of the year for farmers and their families. With so much to get done on the farm, working long days can result in fatigue. When people get tired, they start to make mistakes, and this is when injuries are more common.  

Know common signs of fatigue: 

  • Loss of concentration 
  • Reduced attention span 
  • Easily distracted  
  • “Zoning out”  
  • Know yourself and your personal danger signs 

To reduce the chance of injury on the farm, make sure the environment as an adult and employee is as safe as possible. 

  • Make sure equipment is well maintained – check oil, fluids, hoses, etc. 
  • Check for slow moving vehicle emblems – ensure they are in good shape, able to be seen and reflect light. 
  • Make sure farm structures and equipment are well maintained – Including pens, corrals, etc. 
  • Have the right protective equipment prepared for the job – respirator, steel toed boots, gloves, etc. 

Protect Youth on the Farm 

While work on the farm is being performed, it is not the safest place for youth to be. Taking a child into the work site can expose the child to dangers such as tractor roll over, chemicals, vibrations, etc. However, typically during this season the workday stretches longer than daycare and childcare services are available. When it’s still light out, many parents want to keep working in the evening. It is important to keep kids in a safe environment if they’re not able to be in childcare. Having a safe play area for kids with a fenced in area or inside the house with an older sibling or adult is much safer than taking them into the working farm and exposing them to that environment. 

Especially if parents are fatigued after a long day, it is more dangerous to have kids along because not only are they being exposed to a dangerous environment but it increases the danger for the adult as well as it takes away the focus of their attention.  

Another danger of working long days is the element of darkness. When there is still work to be done after dark, reduced visibility is a danger for the worker and especially if kids are outside of the machinery in the dark brings additional risk.  

Top 5 Safety Strategies for Kids on the Farm:  

  1. Keep kids away from tractors
    • Tractors cause over 40% of accidental farm deaths of children under 15. 
  1. Keep young children out of the worksite 
    • Equipment hazards include skid steers, ATVs, PTOs 
    • Supervise children while working in/around grain, animals, gates, tires and environmental hazards 
  1. Ensure age appropriate work 
    • Teen characteristics: lack experience, impulsive, risk taking, susceptible to peer pressure, reluctant to ask questions 
  1. Ensure environment is as safe as possible 
    • Eliminate/reduce hazards: Distractions, slippery/uneven surfaces, repetitive motion 
    • Provide PPE (Personal Protective Equipment): Non-skid shoes, gloves, hearing protection, head protection 
  1. Provide training for work/tasks & ensure proficiency 
    • Model safe behavior 
    • Practice until proficient 
    • Supervise  

Know Appropriate Chores for Youth Ages 

It is normal for adults to think since their kids grew up on the farm that they are comfortable in the environment. We often underestimate their knowledge. Many injuries are caused by youth doing work that does not match their ability. It’s important to use the agricultural youth work guidelines to assess the youth’s ability to make sure they understand the risk and the work they are doing is appropriate for their age. Encourage behavior so youth are comfortable saying if they are not comfortable with a task. 

Make sure youth have a communication tool to contact an adult if they are performing work under periodic supervision where an adult is not always with them, whether that is a cell phone or two-way radio. However, be careful cell phones are not a distraction. Youth should not be talking or texting while performing tasks such as driving a tractor or in a pen with animals. It’s important to acknowledge when it is appropriate to use the phone or not.  

Rural Mutual partners with the National Farm Medicine Center to educate and provide access to agricultural safety information and resources for farmers. As Wisconsin’s #1 farm insurer, our local agents understand the farming industry and are dedicated to helping the Ag community stay safe and be properly protected.