Dangers lurk for children on the farm

Karen Morrison reports from the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association annual meeting in Charlottetown.

CHARLOTTETOWN — Allowing children to join their father in the tractor may seem like one way to create a lifelong interest in farming, but a child safety expert says it’s too risky.

Marsha Salzwedel, the agricultural youth safety specialist at the National Children’s Centre for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, said four out of five children regularly ride with parents but noted tractor accidents account for one-half of fatalities among children younger than 15.

“Tractors are our number one killer of children on the farm,” she told delegates at the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s annual meeting, which was held in Charlottetown Oct. 4-6.

Bailey Kemery, 26, of Major, Sask., lives with the pain of injuries sustained in an accident when she was four, while riding a tractor-driven rototiller with her brother.

He fell forward, but Kemery fell back into the rotors on the tiller. She sustained injuries to her leg, stomach, intestines, liver and face and had to be transported to the nearest hospital, which was 25 minutes away by car.

“The real challenge was after the accident,” she said.

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Her last major surgery in 2005 lasted 10 hours and she continues to seek more operations to lessen her pain.

“My concern is I am going to be in a wheelchair by age 50,” she said.

Salzwedel said child development and teen characteristics affect young people’s ability to perform farm work safely, particularly hazardous work done by adults. These include “hormonal bursts,” especially in male teen brains, which make them prone to anger and aggression.

“Instead of thinking things through, they become very impulsive,” Salzwedel said.

Growth spurts, a reluctance to ask questions and a risk-taking mentality also result in teens not being cognitively mature enough for a lot of farm work.

Salzwedel said many studies have shown both young people and parents overestimate a youth’s ability but conceded ability can vary, so age is not always a good measure.

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“You need to consider more than physical ability,” she said.

“It isn’t just whether or not youth can reach the pedals of that tractor. Do they have the visual feel, the reaction time, the cognitive and mental ability to handle that piece of machinery and make a split second decision if something goes wrong.

“A lot of stuff can happen with youth assigned to tasks they’re not physically ready for.”

Kemery hopes her story will be a reality check for farm families.

“If parents could see this, I am confident they don’t want their children to suffer or let their children be in a situation where they could feel the way I do,” she said. “My parents are going to be very different with their grandchild.”

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  • old grouchy

    Oh boy – – – – childhood is just so risky. Maybe we should just not allow children anything that might be even remotely risky. My bad – – – we’re already doing this!!! Oh that’s why there is almost nothing that can be done by children anymore – – – its all just too risky. Oh well – – – – let’s just remove ALL risk for children. Let’s just not have children anymore. Oh crap – – – we’re doing almost that too – – – oh well all that’s left is raising children in a isolation ward. They won’t be much less useful or any crazier that way – – – parents that want their children to experience life (which contains a HUGE risk component!) are just so demanding of the system, aren’t they?

    • AllThingsConsidered

      Your rantings must seem like the most astonishing ignorance to those who face a lifetime of pain because of a farm accident during childhood. I’m sure those who are injured or dead would find cold comfort in your words, and the (cruel) idea that a childhood of unmitigated risk on the farm is somehow worth it.

      • old grouchy

        I would very simply ask if you ALWAYS did what your parents asked you to do? As you answer will NOT be yes – – – you are part of the problem. So how does one learn? Hopefully not from lifelong pain but that, too, sometimes happens. Whether I like it or support it or DON’T – – – it does sometimes happen. Rules don’t make for actions – – – as much as you think they do, and whilst they sometimes help they don’t make for perfect circumstances which you seem to think they do!

  • Farm Lady

    Childhood is risky for sure, ‘Old Grouch’, especially on the farm. There are for sure ways to make it better for kids though, starting with the parents. If a child sees a parent being safe, the child will be safer too. Those small changes make a hugr difference. We cant stop raising kids because of dangers, but as parents we can be more aware and put in better measures to keep them safe (fences around dugouts, have designated play areas, supervision around animals, age appropriate tasks). No one once said she should put them into isolation, if that is what you took from this article I am very sorry, it may be worth while to re-read the article. In reality though, the people who are hurt the most are the ones who do not embrace change and have a jaded attitude agasint those who are willing the take steps to make those small changes. I know once a child is hurt there is no undooing that- and that is something they are trying to protect families from.

    • AllThingsConsidered

      Well said, Farm Lady!

      • old grouchy

        My parents warned me about getting hurt and I have very very seldom gotten hurt, most times seriously because of the poor actions
        of others. I now hurt most every day. How will you mitigate those things – – – oh – – – I forgot, more regulations and rules that don’t work because more rules always results in better outcomes. Maybe you need to understand that risk is endemic to life in any shape or form and accept that (in fact embrace the risk to get to the possible reward!!)

    • Harold

      To have a risk, one must be seeking, or have in their possession some form of guarantee. A failure to perform in a guarantee is the Risk. A human being cannot offer a guarantee of their own nature to any-other human being. I was born to my parents without a guarantee that I would never get injured, or never die within any given time. I did not guarantee that I would not cause them grief, sorrow, disappointment, harm, nor did I guarantee complete obedience, nor any gain from their style of teaching. Those excepting these terms are often strong enough to be called parents. There is no grandstanding “safety expert” who can prove otherwise.
      Therefore, I did not raise your “risky”, “childhood”, “for sure”, I helped facilitate young human beings to the best of my ability instead. Was I the be-all and end-all that I had hoped? No; but neither was I God. This is also parenting.
      Like old grouch, i don’t bow down to every lab-coat wearing human who has a claim just in Title.
      On a side note, when my children got hurt, their own bodies did the “undooing”, so you are correct in assuming that you cannot.

      • old grouchy

        Well said – – – there are no perfect parents nor kids. Ergo – – – risk!

    • old grouchy

      You cannot ever protect someone from their own desires. With children and adults even perfect teaching AND modeling will result in some negative events and behaviors – – – its part of learning and growing up, even if you psycology/sociology prof promised that you could change that kind of behavior, get real you can’t and problems and accidents happen – – – risk and problems are a NORMAL part of life. Your plethora of rules and regulations that you espouse does nothing but employ more people who think they know something but have done little to nothing themselves.

  • John Fefchak

    Yes, childhood and growing up is risky, but the lessons we learn are imbedded in our minds and hopefully as grown ups-to share with others.
    For instance, what kind of a regulation would it take to prevent a dare from your siblings / or school mates about licking a metal gate on a frosty morning?