This graph shows youth ages 15-17 working in agriculture are 45 times more likely to die on the job than youth working at other jobs.
This graph shows youth ages 15-17 working in agriculture are 45 times more likely to die on the job than youth working at other jobs. GRAPH SUBMITTED
    STEVENS POINT, Wis. – Heart-wrenching headlines depicting tragic stories of kids whose lives ended in a flash or who endured gruesome injuries come across Barbara Lee’s desk every day.
    “I don’t use the word accident to describe any of these incidents because they could have been prevented,” said Lee, RN, PhD, director of the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. “They occurred due to poor decisions made by those responsible. We don’t want to blame anybody, but at the same time, we have to wake up and ask, ‘What’s going on here?’”
    During her presentation, “What’s Killing Farm Kids? And How Can We Stop it?” at the sixth annual Agricultural Safety Connection seminar Jan. 7 in Stevens Point, Lee cited multiple incidents in which children of all ages were either killed or hurt on the farm. Numerous events involved tractors, which account for more than half of youth fatalities on farms.
    In May 2017, a 3-year-old boy was crushed underneath the bucket of a skid steer being operated by his 5-year-old brother while the boys picked rocks with their mom and two brothers. This was not the first death in the family. Another child was previously killed after being run over by a milk truck.
    On a different farm, another young child driving a skid steer was brutally injured when his leg got caught in the machine’s hydraulic arm. All the tissue from his thigh down was ripped off, leaving very little of his leg. The 6-year-old boy spent three months in the hospital and will face a lifetime of medical issues.  
    In another instance, a 5-year-old girl was seriously injured after falling out of a tractor cab and being run over by the equipment, proving the point that even cabs are not safe.
    Sixty percent of the youth injured on the farm were not working at the time. Nearly all the children involved in non-working fatalities were being supervised.
    “Farmers who have children must remember they are a parent first and a farmer second,” Lee said. “If you’re in charge of the kids, you can’t be farming at the same time. You have to be focused on these kids, especially the little toddlers.”
    Few places are as wonderful or as dangerous for raising kids as a farm. Farm kids often find themselves in much more hazardous situations than their urban peers. Youth aged 15 to 17 working in agriculture are 45 times more likely to die on the job than youth working at other jobs.
    Unfortunately, growing up on a farm means children are often placed in situations they are not mentally, or sometimes physically, equipped to handle. Tasking kids with work that falls outside of their mental capacity, for example, allowing children to operate equipment designed for adults, has been the cause of countless deaths and injuries. In other situations, children are killed or injured as innocent bystanders or when playing unsupervised.
    Last November, in Indiana, 3-year-old and 5-year-old brothers playing outside unsupervised were run over and killed by a truck loaded with corn while their mother was inside tending to a younger child.
    Various factors contribute to increased risk of injury on the farm. More economically stable farms tend to take fewer risks. The more kids in the family, the higher the risk as older children are often watching younger ones, etc. High stress levels can also contribute to unsafe behaviors.
    When an urban parent leaves a child in a hot car, there are often legal ramifications and the parent is held responsible. When it comes to parents’ rights versus child protection, are privileges given to agriculture?
    “There are all sorts of justifications why children end up in potentially life-threatening situations on the farm,” Lee said. “We need to question and challenge ag privileges. Why can farm parents put their kids in dangerous situations when most people cannot? Why do we allow it?”
    Lee said it is time to challenge unsafe traditions, such as children going for a tractor ride with Dad or Grandpa. In the ad campaign, Keep Kids Away from Tractors, one ad featured the headline, ‘It’s easier to bury a tradition than a child.’  
    “One of the biggest risks you can take is letting a child ride on a tractor fender,” Lee said. “It’s like asking for a fatality. If you see a neighbor doing this, call that person up and share your concern.”
    Reporting negligent or unsafe activities can be uncomfortable; however, it could save a child’s life. Lee predicts the industry will see more legal recourse taken for farm accidents involving children as parents and other adults are held accountable. In some cases, a review of the fatality by the district attorney may occur, and the incident could be charged as involuntary manslaughter or child neglect.
    “If there are consequences, things usually get better,” Lee said. “People pay attention and start changing their practices.”
    When a 4-year-old in Pennsylvania died in a feed grinder, his father was charged with involuntary manslaughter. The dad had told his son to climb up into the feed grinder to open the window. The father walked away and forgot the boy was inside and turned the machine on, resulting in his son’s death. The man received a $150 fine and 50 hours of community service in which he was required to speak on farm safety.
    “We need to do the right thing for these kids,” Lee said. “Legal recourse is going to change the culture and raise awareness. Proper education and training are also important.”
    Lee recommends planning ahead and having mutually agreed upon decisions regarding children’s roles on the farm.
    “You cannot treat children as little adults,” Lee said. “You must understand child development and then match them with proper tasks on the farm.”
    The website,, contains a resource library filled with tools that can foster a culture of safety around kids who work and play on farms. The agricultural youth guidelines found here help farmers match children with tasks appropriate for their age. Lee said following these guidelines has proven to reduce the number of injuries by half.  
    “The farm is like a huge playground that requires physical separation of kids from the hazards,” Lee said. “There are many things proven to prevent children from getting hurt on the farm, such as fences around play areas and various communication and supervision devices.”
    Placing children in harm’s way is a decision that can result in devastating consequences.
    Avoid taking chances with a child’s life. Rethink having a toddler ride along on a tractor or allowing an 8-year-old to operate a skid steer. Do not leave youngsters unattended for any amount of time. It only takes a second for the unthinkable to happen.
    “We all have some role in helping save the next generation of farm kids,” Lee said.