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Keeping Kids' Injuries Down on the Farm

Prevention guidelines help, but many potential hazards still exist

TUESDAY, May 4, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Baling hay, catching pigs and driving a tractor are all in a day's work for many children of America's farm families.

But farm work can be risky business, especially if a child isn't mentally or physically prepared for it.

Actually, the potential hazards are even greater than child health experts have believed, says a new study from the Bassett Research Institute of Cooperstown, N.Y., and its affiliate, the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health.

Things such as stepping on a pitchfork, getting fingers caught in farm equipment, or landing on a board with a nail in it aren't covered in national prevention guidelines, said study author Dr. Anne Gadomski, a research scientist with the Bassett Research Institute.

The study is the first to test whether guidelines for preventing child injuries on the farm are effective. The findings were presented May 3 at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in San Francisco.

More than 100 children are killed and 33,000 are seriously injured on U.S. farms and ranches each year, according to the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety.

With input from agricultural safety professionals, child development experts, industrial hygienists and farm parents, the center issued a set of guidelines in June 1999 to help adults assign safe and appropriate farm jobs to children 7 to 16 years old.

Called the North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT), they consist of 68 recommendations covering seven categories of routine jobs, such as animal care, haying operations and tractor fundamentals. The guidelines were developed with funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Researchers tested the guidelines with 845 farms in central New York with a total of 2,454 children who either lived or worked on those farms. Half of the farms were randomly assigned to receive the NAGCAT guidelines and a visit from an educator to review the guidelines. The others received only a visit to complete a baseline survey.

Giving parents specific guidelines for assigning age-appropriate chores does help, the authors found. Injuries were reduced by nearly one-half after parents received that information compared to a control group, the study found. Yet more than half of the injuries that occurred -- 54 percent -- were not reflected in the guidelines at all.

"It's not to say the guidelines don't work, but there's a whole slew of other injuries occurring that have nothing to do with the guidelines," Gadomski said.

The guidelines achieved their greatest success in protecting children by limiting the amount of time a child performs a task and by increasing the amount of time a task is supervised by an adult, the authors said.

Families that received the guidelines also were less likely than those in the control group to violate recommended age minimums for using all-terrain vehicles and tractors, hitching and unhitching trailed implements to tractors, and baling hay.

"This confirmation that NAGCAT-influenced parenting practices reduced childhood injuries will guide safety specialists and professional groups, such as [the] American Academy of Pediatrics, that are looking for resources and strategies proven to be effective in protecting children from harm," said Barbara C. Lee, director of the National Children's Center.

In the study, children 6 and under had the highest incidence of farm injury. The National Children's Center says it's not safe for children that young to work on farms.

The next step, Gadomski said, is to find safer places for young children on farms, who are at risk for injury even if they're not performing actual chores.

"The kids who live on farms play on farms, and they're playing where various workplace hazards exist," she said.

More information

You can get farm safety tips from the Nemours Foundation.

SOURCES: Anne Gadomski, M.D., M.P.H., attending pediatrician, research scientist, Bassett Research Institute, Cooperstown, N.Y.; Barbara C. Lee, R.N., Ph.D., director, National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, Marshfield, Wis.; May 3, 2004, presentation, Pediatric Academic Societies meeting, San Francisco
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