Speaker offers guidelines for farm safety

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 3/29/00.

John Shutske John Shutske, an agriculture specialist at the University of Minnesota, helped write the North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks. Last Tuesday, he was in Paynesville to explain them to health care professionals and to the public.

After speaking twice in the morning to groups from the Paynesville Area Health Care System, Shutske gave a public talk in the afternoon at the Paynesville Area Center about farm safety for children.

Shutske, who grew up on a farm in northwest Indiana and has two kids of his own, said the death rate among farmers was next to mining among occupations nationally. "This is not a new problem," he said. "We continue to have deaths and fatalities on farms."

Seventy percent of the farm fatalities in the United States and Canada involve kids who are 16 years of age and younger, he said. Last year, 104 kids were farm fatalities. At least a third of the nonfatalities happen to visitors on farms, he added, indicating the need for farm safety for all families.

According to Shutske, the North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks are intended to help parents determine what tasks are appropriate for their children, to identify what the hazards of the job are, and to decide what amount of supervision and training are required.

Shutske recalled how his father brought him to the field when he was nine years old and had him disk a corn field after making a few rounds as an example. Shutske said he physically was big enough to operate the tractor, meaning he could reach all the pedals and turn the steering wheel, but his ability to follow directions and to accomplish complex tasks was less developed. Adults, he said, have no problem with the sequence of pushing in the clutch, taking the engine out of gear, and getting off the tractor, but a nine year old might.

Shutske said parents tend to overestimate the abilities and skills of their kids. This can lead to disagreements about what a child is capable of doing on the farm. Typically, Shutske said the father wants the child to do more, while the mother is more protective. "Because of this conflict, we wanted to give parents tools to look at their kids objectively," he added.

Creating guidelines based solely on age isn't helpful because all kids, even those within the same family, grow and develop at a different rate. The guidelines, therefore, try to offer tangible measures of a child's skill. For instance, to feed milk to calves, a certain level of hand-eye coordination is needed. The guidelines ask if the child can catch a basketball and pour milk into a cereal bowl.

Shutske said his six-year-old was eager to help him with a household task recently. His son had put on his tool belt, got out the wrench, and proceeded to help for four minutes before he disappeared to the neighbors house wearing his helmet, skates, and tool belt.

Attention span is another important factor in the level of chores a child is able to do. A child requires constant supervision until they prove their ability to focus and accomplish the task. Normally as a child gets older and their attention span grows, the level of supervision declines.

"If you have doubts (about what is appropriate)," Shutske cautioned, "always err on the safe side."

There are 62 guidelines in all, covering animal care, haying operations, implement operations, manual labor, tractor fundamentals, and general labor. Each guideline contains a title of the job, an illustration, the adult responsibilities, a checklist of skills the child needs to do the job, the main hazards, safety reminders, and a recommended level of supervision. The guidelines were written for kids of ages seven and up.

Posters of guidelines can be ordered, for a charge, at 1-800-382-8473. The guidelines are also available online at www.nagcat.org.

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