Families must use caution on farm

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Spring is always a busy time on the family farm, but this year is presenting unique challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to an agricultural safety specialist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“Because schools and daycare services are closed, youth are at home all day,” said Linda Fetzer, extension associate in agricultural safety and health. “Children who live on farms may have more opportunities to be exposed to farm hazards and risks as their families continue with operations.”

She pointed out that nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania farm fatalities in 2019 involved youth under the age of 18, which underscores the need for extra vigilance, especially at this time.

“Children and youth are often untrained, inexperienced and emotionally or physically immature for many agricultural work tasks,” she said. “That is why it is so important that farming families have top-of-mind awareness when hiring youth or assigning chores to children.”

Fetzer shared the following safety tips and resources:

  Handwashing is a must. “Farms are continuing normal operations, which means that operators will be interacting with workers and others who will come on the farm to conduct business,” she said. “It is especially important for adults to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before touching or interacting with their children.”

  Tractor safety is paramount. Farm tractor accidents continue to be a major cause of fatalities in Pennsylvania, noted Fetzer. “It is important to keep young children away from tractors, and older teens driving tractors need to be old enough and have the maturity to operate them safely.”

  Keep close tabs on younger children. Children should stay at least 10 feet away from farm equipment so that the operator easily can see them. “Adults should make sure children are away from work areas, preferably in a fenced yard with an adult or older child to watch them.”

  Be selective when assigning chores for youth. “If your children are old enough to be active in the farm operation, make sure they are doing age-appropriate tasks,” she said. “Youth doing work that doesn’t match their developmental level and abilities can increase the risk of injury.” She pointed to the Agricultural Youth Work Guidelines from the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety as an excellent resource for families.

  Prevent the spread of COVID-19. “Social distancing, hand hygiene and covering one’s nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing are a few ways to keep families healthy,” said Fetzer, who encouraged families to learn more about COVID-19 by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health websites. “We understand farm families are navigating unique circumstances due to the pandemic,” Fetzer said. “But one difficulty they should never have to face is having a child injured on the farm. Being mindful of good safety practices can help to avoid a tragic outcome.”

Penn State extension offers an array of agricultural safety and farm emergency training programs. Courses on animal handling, farm emergency rescue, farm equipment and structures, protective gear and disaster preparedness are among the topics covered.

One program that focuses on young people is the Safety in Agriculture for Youth project, which is a clearinghouse of curriculum and resources to teach farm safety for 4-H and FFA educators. Another is the National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Instructor Program, which trains instructors to teach tractor and machinery safety to 14- and 15-year-old youth.

More information on farm safety and rescue training can be found on the Penn State extension website at extension.psu.edu/business-and-operations/farm-safety.

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