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.

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.

“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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