Many farms in Colorado depend on young workers to keep their operations afloat. For farm families, the idea of a teenager pitching in with farm chores is as unremarkable as a city or suburban teen being asked to help out with yard work or cleaning the house.
Farm work, though, is a lot more dangerous. In fact, when compared to all other workplaces, teenagers are approximately four times more likely to be killed on a farm. Farm equipment, including tractors, is responsible for most agricultural injuries and fatalities involving young people.
Despite these risks, federal regulators have been unable to restrict teens’ ability to operate farm equipment. For many people, farming is an important family tradition. In addition, operating a family farm would likely become economically unsustainable if older children were not allowed to help out.
Instead, the proper focus is on finding ways to make farm work safer. One way to achieve this goal is to choose tasks that are appropriate given the teen’s age, maturity and experience.
A pilot program funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is hoping to help farm families make these decisions by putting their children through simulations designed to test their abilities to safely operate farm equipment. The children – who range in age from 10 to 17 – will sit in the cab of a John Deere tractor that is hooked up to a wrap-around movie screen. The children will take a “virtual drive” that involves mowing fields, navigating hills and obstacles and taking a drive down a country road. Special software will record their performance to see if they are ready to safely drive a real tractor.
Researchers hope that the pilot will lead to other forms of virtual skills testing for young farm workers. Making educated and age-appropriate decisions about which farm tasks teens should handle can greatly reduce the risk of injury or death.
Source: KOAA, “Iowa study aimed at making tractors safer for kids,” Garrett Boyd, Sept. 5, 2012.
To learn more about protecting your rights after being injured at work, please visit our page on what to do after a work accident.