There is a great deal happening this time of year. Classes at Barton Community College are over and it is finals and graduation week. Area schools are in the home stretch. A blizzard this past week in western Kansas hurt an already disease stressed wheat crop. Heavy rains in our area have delayed corn planting and input application. One event that likely passed under the radar was the Tractor Safety Class conducted by Barton County Extension Office.
These classes are held around the state and nation for minors to work on agricultural operations not their family farm. There is a fairly standardized curriculum taught by extension personnel and volunteers, here over more than one day. This class provides basic information on farm equipment and overall personal safety on the farm. Students are required to pass a test demonstrating their knowledge. It stresses age-appropriate tasks, recognizing hazards and limitations of knowledge. The upside is that the students attending learn good basic skills for the farm. The downside, in spite of publicity, is that more minors don’t take this class. Some brush off events like this as government overreach or overly protecting children. Here are some of the reasons this program was developed:
• On average, 100 individuals under age 20 are killed each year in farm work-related accidents. On average, a child dies on a farm once every 3.5 days in the U.S.
• Between 1995 and 2002, over 900 farm related deaths were recorded for those between ages 16 and 19.
• 25 percent of the fatalities involved machinery, 17 percent motor vehicles (including ATVs) and 16 percent drowning. Most of the fatalities were males aged 20 and younger.
• In 2009, 15,000 youth injuries were recorded on farms, injuries needing at least a trip to the doctor or emergency room. Falls accounted for 40 percent of the injuries.
That is the why. So what can you do in a brief time to help keep minors safe? Plenty. They are exposed to risk perception and how they should look at risk. They learn basic hazards of working around machinery and use of shields and other safety devices. Students are also taught how to dress safely, work around machinery, and most importantly – ask questions. Reaction time is also something stressed. Reaction time relative to the speed of gears, chains, all rotating parts such as PTO shafts. And everyone stressed slowing down and paying attention in an industry where being in a hurry to beat the weather or other obstacle is the norm.
While agriculture is a dangerous occupation, it is much safer now than thirty or even ten years ago. And with care, working on the farm is a great learning experience for many youth, especially those who aren’t “farm kids.” So hats off to Alicia Boor and all her volunteers who took the time for this class.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.