Farm medicine, children’s centers raise awareness of agricultural health and safety issues
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — On average nationwide, one child dies every three days in an “agriculture-related incident,” according to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, a part of the National Farm Medicine Center (NFMC).
“Of the leading sources of fatalities among all youth, 25 percent involved machinery, 17 percent involved motor vehicles (includes ATVs), and 16 percent were drowning,” according to a fact sheet provided by the children’s center, which draws on data from numerous sources. Tractors, according to the fact sheet, are the leading source of deaths among working youth on farms.
These disturbing statistics are why Bryan Weichelt, a project scientist with the NFMC, researches trends of agriculture-related injuries and deaths. Both the NFMC and the children’s center are under the umbrella of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation. Founded in 1981, the NFMC “has focused on evolving issues in agricultural health and safety encompassing behavioral, laboratory, and clinical research,” according to the group’s website.
Weichelt collects news clippings from across the country detailing injuries sustained on farms at aginjurynews.org and then analyzes that information.
“I read these horrific stories every day. It really takes its toll on you,” said Weichelt, who grew up on a dairy farm between Marshfield and Rozellville that his father still operates. One story Weichelt referenced occurred when a husband reversed his skidsteer and accidentally rolled over and killed his wife, who had slipped on some ice.
While reading these news stories is a grisly burden for Weichelt, one he carries with him at both work and home, he wants to share this information in the interest of preventing as much injury and death on farms as possible.
“I want to be able to make that impact on other farm families and farm owners, and I want them to be aware and know of these risks,” Weichelt said. “I very much think kids should be involved in agriculture, and I loved being involved in (agriculture) as a kid. I would never want somebody to take that away.”
One of the challenges in establishing safety measures is the culture of farming as a family activity. Many children accompany parents as they carry out their duties on a farm, operate equipment, and interact with animals, which are also a major source of injuries.
“How do you strike the balance of keeping kids involved and interested in agriculture while keeping them safe at the same time?” Weichelt said. He later added, “It hasn’t caught up. (The) cultural aspect of safety in other industries is way beyond where agriculture is.”
The NFMC and children’s center promote the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks, which guide parents on a litany of farm activities and whether or not children should be involved. The guidelines pose a number of questions to parents to determine if it is safe for their child to do a certain activity on the farm such as riding an ATV or cleaning an animal pen.
One intervention advocated by the NFMC and children’s center is to have an enclosed or fenced area where children can play outside but are separated from machinery and other potentially dangerous situations on a farm.
Weichelt would also like to see more agriculture safety-related programming at the high school and college levels, noting that the topic could be naturally woven in with business courses.
“(Business courses could) talk about risk management, and what does it cost you as an operation to have an injured worker? What does it cost a family who loses a child?” Weichelt said. “The cost of an injured worker to a large farm can be huge.”
The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety is currently accepting grant funding applications through Aug. 17with the aim of financially supporting “small-scale projects and pilot studies that address prevention of childhood agricultural disease and injury.” Applicants can request a maximum of $20,000. More information on the grants can be found at marshfieldresearch.org/nccrahs/mini-grants.
For more information on the National Farm Medicine Center or The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, visit marshfieldresearch.org/nfmc/national-farm-medicine-center.