However, unhappy memories can be created as easily as happy ones. Each year, rural family doctors deal with the results of accidents. A significant injury occurs every 20 minutes somewhere on a western Canadian farm. Children are seriously injured and even killed every year.
City kids and their parents need to be especially aware of danger to stay safe on a farm. It will do no harm for rural folk to read over these guidelines as well. We all want to help visitors take home warm feelings about the country that we love and wish to share.
You know how important it is to childproof your home to keep kids safe. Can you imagine childproofing an entire farm? The fact that farm families are used to the hazards adds to the danger. In fact, they may take it for granted that everyone already knows about the pitfalls.
By far, the majority of injuries occur around machinery and ATVs. Motorbikes are also a concern. Hazards can arise from structures unique to the farm, like haystacks, dugouts, and barn lofts. Don’t forget about all of those irresistible animals!
Machinery is by far the single most frequent cause of injury on the farm. Unfortunately, it is also the most deadly.
Each area presents its own dangers, and you are likely to encounter at least one during a farm visit. As you will see, the rules are not that different from those of the city.
In many rural communities, injury and deaths involving ATVs have increased by 50 per cent in recent years. Most of these incidents involved children under the age of 16. These four-wheeled vehicles may look like toys, but are powerful enough to do farm work. If not operated within the capacity of the machine and skills of the operator, they can tip and roll.
ARVs can be difficult to control even on the simplest terrain. Accidents actually occur more frequently on paved roads where such vehicles are often not licensed for operation. Carrying a passenger is one of the most common problems. Most ATVs are built for single riders. Passengers should not be carried unless specified by the manufacturer.
To operate an ATV in some provinces, the rider must be at least 16 years old. In other places, age is not regulated. Children are much too small for an ATV, and do not have adequate strength or experience to operate it safely. Sadly, ATV-related childhood injuries and deaths are common and becoming more frequent.
While helmets are not mandatory in all areas, they are necessary to protect the rider. All riders should wear safety equipment including an approved helmet, long pants and gloves.
Farm trucks and tractors are harder to drive than passenger cars. They have many blind spots. Farm road and yards are often flanked by tall grass, hiding kids that could be playing in places that a driver does not expect to find them.
Power take-offs, or PTOs, are a well-known terror. They cause many injuries. A PTO is a short metal shaft that sticks out from the back of a tractor, just beneath the driver’s seat. It spins so quickly you cannot see the little ridges on the shaft. It can twist up a shirtsleeve or a jacket so fast that there is no time to escape.
A PTO is used to turn other types of implements like grain, and are often extremely sharp. They can cause serious injury.
Tractors have only one seat – for the operator – for good reason. A passenger could unintentionally bump many levers. What’s more, it is easy to fall off.
You might wonder who would keep dangerous chemicals accessible to children. Yet health care providers commonly see children exposed to significant amounts of pesticides, fertilizers, gopher poisons, and livestock injections. The farm schedule is a tight one. Often chemicals are stored where they are used and needed, not in the safest or least accessible places.
Most city kids are probably not aware that haystacks are not solid structures. A typical haystack is 10 to 12 feet high and very unstable. They can shift and move unexpectedly. Imagine being hit by either a falling 80-pound hay bale falling or a forgotten pitchfork flying off the stack.
Children have also died from becoming tangled in loose bale string while playing in the hay. It’s truly hard to predict how hay stack injuries can occur.
Water is dealt with differently on the farm than in the city. Dugouts may look like inviting swimming holes, but aren’t like a city pool at all. Most have steep banks and are at least 10 to 12 feet deep. Their muddy sides are slippery, making it easy to accidentally fall in and tough to get out. Also, ice does not form evenly on dugouts. It can be hard to tell where the ice is thin.
In some areas irrigation is the mainstay of agriculture. Ditches crisscross the landscape, and culverts conceal fast running water.
Electrical sources on the farm are often different from the city. Kids can come in contact with electricity in unexpected ways. For instance, pesky gophers love to hide in pieces of irrigation pipe, posing a fascinating problem for children of all ages. Holding the piece of pipe upright may well persuade Mr. Gopher to come sliding out, but the pipe can also touch the power lines above. This is a surprisingly common cause of electrocution on farms.
Front-end loaders, bale wagons and the back of pickup trucks can be fun to ride on, but the heavy suspensions of these vehicles on bumpy farm roads and yards can send passengers flying. Children can easily fall off trailers. It is hard to escape from the wheels of even a slow moving trailer.
No animal is totally predictable. Popcorn the old gray pony is rare indeed. It takes a very special horse and the watchful eye of an adult for a child to have a safe and positive encounter with these beautiful animals.
I have become convinced that every animal-related incident can be anticipated. Never take animal behaviour for granted. Even the gentlest horses will step on toes and knock children down in their enthusiasm to get attention and look for treats in little pockets.
Animals and their babies are a true delight. But sometimes even the gentlest cat, dog, mare or milk cow will get the notion that their baby is in danger and strike out unexpectedly.
Involve children in supervised activities with animals. Do things that you know are appropriate for their age and experience.
Children somehow find ways to turn our hair prematurely gray despite all of our best intentions for safety. Try not to spend your time on the farm in constant fear, but remember the most important rule of all – supervise, supervise, supervise! Awareness of farm hazards, combined with common sense and teaching your child about farm safety, can make your visit the memorable one you wish it to be.