Bryan Weichelt considers his family very lucky — during the more than 100 years his family has farmed near Stratford, no child has ever died or suffered a traumatic injury while working on the family farm.
That’s not the case for thousands of farms across the nation.
Weichelt is among the researchers at the forefront of monitoring injuries and deaths among children related to farming and agriculture attheNationalChildren’sCenter for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety.
The 2016 report from the center released in July shows that children on farms are much much safer from nonfatal injuries today than they were 18 years ago, but not any safer from fatal ones.
Every three days, a child dies in an agriculture-related incident, Weichelt said. Thousands of children under the age of 20 are injured every year, with the majority of the injuries in the Midwest, he said.
“A farm can be littered with potential hazards,” Weichelt said.
While the number of deaths among children averages around 110 per year nationally for the past two decades, fewer kids are being injured on farms.
In 1998 the number of injuries among youth per 1,000 farms was 16.6 and by 2014 the rate had dropped to 5.7, said Marsha Salzwedel, a colleague with Weichelt at the children’s center, which is a branch of the National Farm Medicine Center at the Marshfield Clinic.
The center develops and promotes initiatives to increase farm safety and Salzwedel attributes their implementation by farmers to the decrease in the injuries. “We sincerely hope that our prevention messages are getting through,” she said. Dairy farmers Holly and Gary Stankowski, of Mosinee, both grew up on farms and know first-hand the potential dangers farming poses. HollyStankowski, 33, said safety is the top priority on their dairy farm where their 4-year-old daughter wants to help with farm chores.
“My daughter and I go to the barn most every day but my primary responsibility is to keep her safe. My husband’s primary responsibility is to manage the farm,” Holly Stankowski said. The couple wants to instill in their children the same love and joy of farming that they have, she said. Holly Stankowski is pregnant with her second child due in September.
Safety a priority
The couple’s daughter, Ella, enjoys being part of the farming activities and helps to feed the cows and clean manure, but it’s underthe constant watch of her mother. “Most days Ella is in the barn with me and she works, somewhat, alongside me and I’m teaching her and we’re spending time together, but I never take my eyes off of her,” Holly Stankowski said.
The Stankowskis are farming in the most dangerous region of the country. With the majority of the nation’s farms being in the Midwest, the number of injuries among children also are the highest in the region. In 2012, there were about 7,000 children injured in the Midwest as compared to 1,500 children in the Northeast; 2,800 children in the South and about 2,300 in the West. “It’s good that the injury numbers are decreasing, but that the death rate hasn’t changed is troubling,” Salzwedel said.
There is no central database on childhood agricultural injures, which makes it difficult to determine why the death rate remains static, Salzwedel said.
Gaps in data
While adult worker injuries or deaths are reported to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or other agencies, there isn’t a requirement to report agriculture- related childhood injuries or deaths, she said.
“It’s my suspicion that there’s a greater use of ATV and UTVs on farms and that’s what is contributing to this not changing,” Salzwedel said.
Similar to Weichelt, Salzwedel grew up on the family farm near Antigo where pitching in to help with chores was integral to life on the farm.
“It scares me to death, now, when I think about all the things we did when we were kids,” Salzwedel said.
When she was a child, Salzwedel and her siblings were riding at the front of an empty flat-bed wagon being pulled by a tractor her brother was driving. Her younger brother fell off the wagon, was run over and survived with a few bruises.
“When it happened we were frantic,” she said. “I look back on those years and sometimes I think it’s a blessing we are all alive and have all our fingers and toes.”
The majority of farm deaths are related to vehicles including skid-steers and tractors while the majority of injuries are attributed to vehicles and animals.
Safety initiatives promoted
Since 1997, the children’s center has promoted initiatives across the nation to improve safety, which includes a campaign to keep youth less than 14 off tractors, promoting fenced play areas for children so that they can be outside on the farm but away from machinery, animals and other hazards, and creating a guide for parents about age-appropriate agriculture activities for children.
The center doesn’t track whether farms implement safety measures, Salzwedel said.
Weichelt takes to heart the safety measures and has implemented them for his children when he’s working on the family farm that continues to be run by his parents.
“I love farming and I always loved it as a kid and that’s something I want my kids to enjoy someday,” Weichelt said. He’s the father of a 3-year-old daughter and 21-month-old triplets.
The attraction for his children on their grandparent’s farm is the pen of sheep. Since his children are small and sheep are much bigger, there’s a fence that separates their visits.
Keeping kids safe
“The kids just love the sheep and it’s wonderful. I want them to experience all the animals, but safety comes first,” he said.
The greatest challenge to establishing safety measures related to children and agriculture is the tradition of farming being a family activity. Many children grow-up accompanying their parents to the barn for chores, Weichelt said. “Striking a balance between involving your kids and keeping them interested in agriculture along with keeping kids safe isn’t where it is in other industries,” he said.
Salzwedel said farms are slowly adapting to change but that change is increasing with the new generation of farmers — the millennials, born between 1982 and 2000.
The millennial generation of farmers is much more cognizant of safety issues, Salzwedel said.
“This is the first generation that has grown up always wearing their seat belts and helmets when riding bikes. Safety is more automatic for the millennial generation because they grew up in a culture of safety,” she said. “I think we will reach a point where just like a seat belt is automatic,safety on a farm is automatic, too,” Salzwedel said.