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Identifying hazards minimizes liability

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The increasing popularity and numbers of agritourism farms present special challenges for operators.

Marsha Salzwedel, a research specialist with the National Farm Medicine Centre in Wisconsin, said that means paying greater attention to safety protocols to minimize accidents and limit liability.

She told the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association annual conference in February that 40 percent of the children hurt on farms were visiting.

“There are lots of strategies to use to keep children safe on farms, and as long as they’re used, farms are great places for kids,” said Salzwedel.

“The best strategy is just to have them well supervised.”

Salzwedel said visitors are often inattentive, easily distracted and not familiar with or unaware of agricultural hazards. In some cases, parents may be using farms that offer attractions such as a petting zoo or corn maze as babysitters.

Hay rides come with risks, Salzwedel said.

“It’s one of the more dangerous activities, but it can be done safely,” she said.

Wagons should have railings to keep passengers from falling off. They should be towed by suitably sized, well maintained tractors or horses with experienced drivers and not be overloaded. Special care needs to be taken to avoid steep grades or uneven terrain where tipping may occur.

Passengers are a distraction, could spook the horses and should not sit beside the driver.

Safety briefings and signs advising of dangers should provide the necessary due diligence, she said.

Falls account for half the injuries from play structures, which could be cut in half with protective ground coverings.

Pea gravel and corn bins are choking hazards for those younger than three. As well, corn can inflame allergies, turn mouldy when damp and attract wildlife.

“You can do a lot of things at very little cost, and that will work tremendously in improving the safety of your farm and reducing that liability,” she said.

Salzwedel said provides tips on safety issues, tools to help identify problem areas and resources to address concerns.

The site also offers information on best practices, checklists for conducting inspections of farms and resources such as signage, policies and logs.

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