Your Charleston personal injury attorney recently read a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled “Incidence and Cost of Injury Among Young in Agricultural Settings, United States, 2001-2006.” The study has some startling findings regarding not only the prevalence of child injury and death on farms, but also the monetary costs attached to those nonfatal and fatal injuries. The study is far removed from idyllic image that first comes to mind of kids frolicking freely in open pastures, spreading feed for chickens, or riding shotgun to “Pa” on a horse-drawn buggy as they take their most recent harvest to market. Contrary to conventional thinking, and certainly surprising, a vast majority agricultural injuries and deaths were not work related.
In fact, according to the study, many of the non-work related and nonfatal injuries could happen anywhere and are not necessarily linked to farm activity. They included falls, accidents with all terrain vehicles (ATVs) or other vehicles, assault, and suicide attempts. Nonetheless, there are more hazards, particularly for kids, in an agricultural or farm environment, considering the various types of machinery around, as well as animals. The study found that the common identified causes of fatal injuries were machine accidents and fires or explosions.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one million children live on farms. The agency also lists accidents with tractors and other machinery, motor vehicles, and drowning as the leading causes of fatal farm injuries to people under the age of 20. In Fall 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor put forward new regulations that would bar teens under 16 from driving tractors, ATVs, riding mowers, and other machinery, as well as working around animals. However, the federal government is reworking these regulations after criticism from farmers and educators who noted these directives would bar teens from learning many crucial skills necessary for the successful, and safe, running of a farm. Also, and as mentioned earlier, these regulations are geared toward youngsters working in an agricultural setting, which is not the source of the majority of child injuries and deaths.
In sum, the study reports that an average of 26, 655 child agricultural injury incidents occurred annually in the United States between 2001 and 2006. “Child” in this context, and for the purposes of the study, designates youth ages 0 to 19. The study estimates that these injuries cost society an estimated $1.423 billion per year in 2005 dollars, and fatalities cost an estimated $420 per year. Work related injuries, according to the study, cost $347 per year, accounting for only 24.4 percent of the total cost.
While there has been a distinction made between non-work and work related injuries, the risks and hazards are virtually identical. But the real problem is that children have effectively no means of protection against non-work related agricultural injuries, despite the risks and hazards being similar to those encountered during work, because current labor laws do not cover the circumstance in which a child’s parents own the farm. Thus, according to experts, prevention of all injuries and deaths should focus on controlling child access to recreational activities on the farm, as well as ensuring work assignments and tasks are within the limits of developmental norms.
As is often the case in trying to curb a specific societal plight, there is a need to strike a balance between educational and regulatory measures. But, when considering child safety on farms, particularly the fine line between work and recreation, there appears to be a social disconnect between the government regulators, who have never been in agriculture, do not live on farms, nor understand the complexities of farm life, and the individuals they strive to protect.