Each year, farming ranks among the most dangerous occupations in the country for adult and adolescent workers. Although the annual number of farm deaths to children and adolescents has decreased recently, the rate of nonfatal farm injuries has increased. Nearly 2 million children live on or visit farms annually.
Approximately 100 unintentional injury deaths occur annually to kids on farms in the United States, and an additional 22,000 injuries to children younger than 20 years occur on farms. Relatively few adolescents are employed on farms compared with other types of industry, yet the proportion of fatalities in agriculture is higher than that for any other type of adolescent employment.
A new statement published by the Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention and Committee on Community Health Services from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) examines injuries and fatalities among children and adolescents.
"Fewer people are at risk because of the decrease in farm families, but yet there are still a lot of injuries," says Dr. Susan Pollack. Pollack is a Kentucky pediatrician and occupational medicine specialist and member of the committee that produced the report. "There''s such a large toll, and so many of them could have been prevented. A little bit of thinking, a little bit of prevention could really make a big difference."
The death rate for children and adolescents on farms dropped 39 percent in the 10-year span analyzed in the report. According to Pollack, "This has a little bit to do with [improved] emergency medical services for children. More of them are reaching the ER alive, [and] pre-hospital care is better."
Still, injuries continue to mount. Considering the shrinking farm population, the rate for nonfatal injuries to kids on farms has climbed almost 11 percent, the report says. The statement provides recommendations for pediatricians regarding patient and community education as well as public advocacy related to agricultural injury prevention in childhood and adolescence.
The most common causes of injury and fatality for children and adolescents are tractors, livestock, other farm machinery (including power take-offs), falls from structures, chemical burns and poisonings, and wound infections.
In addition, high school students with active involvement in farm work have been found to have audiometric evidence of early noise-induced hearing loss. Other environmental or health hazards experienced by adult workers, such as exposure to pesticides, fuel, toxic gases, infections, and stress, also affect children.
In the report, the AAP recommends that pediatricians ask parents and patients about farm residence, farm work involving children, and visits to relatives on farms and should be informed about the risks of agricultural injury and effective preventive measures. Strategies for prevention suggested by the AAP include:
- Separating young children from farm hazards by fencing in a play area;
- Providing child care to assist farm families and farm workers or pooling family child care, especially at planting and harvesting times;
- Prohibiting extra riders on tractors, mowers, and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs);
- Ensuring that there are rollover protective structures (ROPS) and seat belts on tractors and other farm equipment and that these are used at all times;
- Limiting young children''s access to large animals;
- Properly storing farm chemicals and cleaning agents;
- Providing children who work on farms with personal hearing-protection equipment and training them on how to use it properly.
The PAA also suggests improved safety standards for farm equipment. All tractors should be equipped with seat belts, and individuals younger than 18 years should be restricted from operating any tractor not so equipped. The committee also suggests that children younger than 16 years should not operate any farm vehicles, including ATVs.
by Sandy Smith