Farm safety important year-round

WORTHINGTON, Minn. -- When University of Minnesota Extension Educator Melissa Runck talks about farm safety with children, she uses an "I Spy" safety hazards board filled with plastic farm animals, toy tractors and implements, farm trucks and tra...

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Students attend a farm safety program presented by University of Minnesota Extension. Many of today's children don't live on a farm, but get to visit farms owned by family or friends. (Special to the Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON, Minn. - When University of Minnesota Extension Educator Melissa Runck talks about farm safety with children, she uses an “I Spy” safety hazards board filled with plastic farm animals, toy tractors and implements, farm trucks and trailers and plastic little people.

As the students gather around the board, they are asked to find the obvious - and sometimes hidden - dangers on a farm.

Among the obvious offenders are a man being elevated by a front-end tractor loader to reach the steps on the side of a silo, and a tractor pulling a cultivator down a gravel road with little to no room for oncoming traffic to get around it.

Runck said the safety board is meant to get children thinking about safety on the farm, but there are many good lessons for adults as well.

During spring planting and fall harvest, farmers are busy and sometimes don’t take the precautions they should. It’s up to everyone to be careful, whether you’re visiting a farm or meeting a tractor on the roadway.


Tractors are slow-moving vehicles, oftentimes pulling large equipment. Runck said the No. 1 thing people need to do is just slow down and be aware when sharing the road with farm implements.

“Equipment is probably the most dangerous,” said Runck. “With some older equipment, farmers may not have the proper turn signals. It is so incredibly important to just slow down and be courteous.”

Runck said the same goes for farmers - they should be courteous to other drivers and be mindful if traffic is backed up behind them.

With farm equipment, Runck said farmers also need to be cognizant of age-appropriate work for children.

“Most kids are too small or too young or too inexperienced to handle the equipment they are given access to these days,” she said.

A U.S. Department of Labor fact sheet identifies specific regulations about child labor on farms.

The sheet states individuals under the age of 16 may not:

  • Operate a tractor over 20 PTO horsepower or connect or disconnect an implement from such a tractor.
  • Operate or work with a corn picker, combine, hay mower, forage harvester, hay baler, feed grinder, crop dryer, auger conveyor or other specific implements.
  • Operate or work with a trencher or earthmoving equipment, fork lift or power-driven circular, band or chainsaw.
  • Work in a yard, pen or stall occupied by a bull, boar or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes, a sow with suckling pigs or a cow with a newborn calf.
  • Work from a ladder or scaffold at a height over 20 feet.
  • Ride on a tractor as a passenger or helper.
  • Handle or apply toxic agricultural chemicals.
  • Handle or use explosives; or
  • Transport, transfer or apply anhydrous ammonia.

The prohibition of employment in hazardous occupations does not apply to youths employed on farms owned or operated by their parents, but Runck said that doesn’t mean youths are ready to do every job on the farm.
She cited specifically children under the age of 16 who are given access to drive ATVs, UTVs, Gators and lawnmowers.


“Children don’t have the response time that adults have, and they also don’t have the manpower to operate those,” Runck said.

One suggestion she offers is to pull keys from farm equipment so young children can’t operate it, whether accidentally or intentionally.

“With the electronic gadgets (in farm tractors), it’s very easy to start this equipment,” she added.

Runck also advises farmers to be careful with chemicals stored on the farm so that children aren’t exposed to the safety hazard.

Safety around animals Springtime on the farm is a fun time with all of the baby calves, lambs, goat kids, piglets, chickens and other animals and fowl.

Inviting people to the farm to see the babies is exciting, but farmers should be cautious with guests who aren’t familiar with farm animals.

“You should make sure young children or visitors are never left unattended around strange pets or large livestock,” Runck advised.

She said most people think pigs are friendly, docile animals, but they can get rather aggressive around feeding time. They are also strong and can push people into walls or gates. Horses are another example Runck offered. Horses don’t typically have a fear of humans, and they can unintentionally knock kids down.


“Also, this time of year when cattle are calving, we’ve got mamas standing over (their calves) protecting them,” she said. “Make sure you’re not getting into their zone where they feel they have to protect their calf.”

Runck said people should not only be cautious around farm animals, but farm pets as well - particularly strange dogs.

Whether you live on a farm or just go for a visit, Runck suggests people have designated safe spots for children on the farm. That way, if children hear a tractor coming onto the yard, they should go to the designated spot to be safely out of the way.

Spring is here and planting has already begun in some areas. By taking precautions, practicing safety and being alert, we can all make it a safe season in farm country.

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