Taking care

When my new grandson left the hospital, he was accompanied by a nurse specifically trained in car seat safety. Before his parents were allowed to strap him in and drive home, his car seat was checked, it’s fastening in the car was checked, his straps and buckles were approved, and he was only allowed to leave after he was safely fastened in. New parents are admonished to put newborn babies to sleep on their backs without fluffy pillows and comforters, not to sleep in bed with their parents, to have appropriate vaccinations. The importance of preventing crib deaths, illness and injury is easy to understand when holding a tiny, helpless, newborn baby. I am pleased to see young parents taking this advice seriously and ignoring defensive grandmas who did things differently and sputter, “Well, I did everything wrong, I guess! I’m surprised any of my children survived.”

Grandparents need not be defensive when their kids follow modern expert advice. We followed what was the best advice we had access to when we had babies. Unfortunately, not all mothers can say they were so lucky. I doubt any parent who has lost an infant to one of these causes would not wish they had been offered the resources and advice given new parents today if it might have saved their baby’s life.

Good parents do their best to keep their babies safe. We all have the best interests of our kids at heart. We want them to grow up to be healthy, responsible adults. Kids who grow up on farms have the opportunity to learn many skills that their urban counterparts do not. Farm kids often are expected to work with their parents and understand what we do to earn a living. City kids often only know that their parents go to work. They do not get to see that work or to work with them. Family farming and working together is a a great blessing. My daughters have more than once been hired for a job because they know how to operate a tractor.

Like all blessings, there is another side to growing up on the farm. Accidents are the number one cause of death among young people under the age of 20. Farm kids are twice as likely to die or to be seriously injured in an accident than other kids. The number one cause of death and injury of kids living and working on farms is accidents on or around tractors, farm machinery and livestock, including falls from horses. The majority of farm accidents involve children under the age of 15 with nearly 30 percent of the accidents involving children under the age of 10. While the rate of accidents on farms has decreased in the last 20 years, nearly 26,000 kids annually are hurt on farms. Nearly a thousand of them suffer a permanent disability as a result.

I know that all of us have at times put our kids at risk for accidents. Most of us are lucky that the unthinkable has not happened. We are not deliberately careless with our kids. No one would intentionally allow harm to the child we so carefully put to sleep on his back and buckled into his seatbelt as an infant. However, if we are not deliberate about avoiding risk when we can, the result can be the same and it may be an accident that we cannot forgive ourselves for allowing to happen.

Farm accidents aren’t the result of some unseen hand of fate. The majority of them can be prevented.

We shouldn’t be surprised when the branch of the government charged with workplace safety looks at farms and sets out to set up new rules to keep kids safe. When the government agency proposed new rules for what kind of work farm kids should do, there was an outcry from farmers and farm organizations about our rights and the value of kids working together with their parents on the family farm. In spite of our protests, we do not seem to take the common sense advice we have available to us to keep our kids safe.

I have seen kids driving lawn mowers and ATV’s that are made for large adults. They can barely reach the controls. I have seen kids under ten pushing lawn mowers they can hardly turn. I have seen infants riding on parents laps in trucks, on ATV’s, in tractors pulling PTO-driven equipment with and without cabs. We take our kids to the barn and to the pasture.

We forget that children are not small adults. They are not able to make decisions in an emergency like an adult. We assume that because our kids have been with us as we worked since they were tiny that they know all the rules. We have been doing some of the tasks on our farms for decades and we forget to mention things that seem obvious to us but not so to someone doing the task for the first time.

Most of the time we are lucky.

If we want to avoid government interference in how our kids work on our farms, we need to take farm safety advice seriously ourselves and eliminate the accidents that can be prevented.

Don’t take your children with you on the tractor if there is a chance you will have to leave them alone in the cab while you tend to something else. Better yet, don’t take them on the tractor with you. If you have to drive the tractor and are taking care of a small child, hire a baby sitter or call grandma.

Don’t hold children on your lap when you mow the lawn. Don’t let children mow the grass until they are big enough to easily manage the controls of the mower and wise enough to know what to do when something goes wrong. Don’t disable safety switches that shut the mower off. Listening to their begging to do work beyond their ability may be annoying, but it is nothing compared to the pain of seeing your child injured by a lawn mower blade. A neatly trimmed lawn isn’t worth the risk either.

Put helmets on kids when they ride bikes and horses. Teach them to respect animals size and unpredictability. Horses kick, cows charge, bulls are unpredictable. Even a protective mother sheep can seriously injure a child by butting.

Follow the safety rules yourself even when you are really busy and pushing to get things done. The kids are watching what you do. Turn off the power take off before you get out of the equipment. Put the tractor in park even if you think you’re not on a slope. Don’t jump off the moving combine. If your kid goes to a safety training and comes home and notices you are not following the safety rules, don’t get defensive. Change your behavior. Accidents are often not caused by deliberate carelessness, but by neglecting carefulness.

There are some very good resources available to help us keep our kids safe. Check with our local Extension Service office. The North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT) has a very useful and informative web site to help farm families decide if children are old enough and responsible enough to do a particular task. Go to http://www.nagcat.org/nagcat/?page=guideline_search. The Farm Safety 4 Just Kids is a nonprofit organization begun by a mother whose child died in a farm accident. http://www.fs4jk.org/

Take it from this grandma. Nothing is worth being less than careful with your kid’s life and safety.

Copyright © 2012 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains