In many states, including Wisconsin, school-age youth and college students are now home, and in some cases doing homeschooling or online learning. They may be eager to help with chores, fieldwork and other farm activities. Your normally-available workers may not able to work because they are caring for their own children. Or, they might be sick or have other responsibilities. A farm operation may have a real need for additional labor from their kids. (Please note: this article only covers children who are working on their family’s farm – additional future guidance will be provided for those wanting to hire non-family youth).
Families must use caution in their desire to send or allow kids into the farm workplace. Farming continues to be one of our country’s most dangerous industries. Children are at especially high risk. Typically, in Wisconsin, we have 20 to 30 farm workplace fatalities each year. Past research shows that Wisconsin farms have several thousand serious farm work injuries – about 80% of those require professional medical care. Among youth, this factsheet from the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Safety and Health shows that youth are at high risk for fatal and non-fatal farming injuries, and that one child dies on a farm in an agriculture-related incident every three days.
As you consider safe and age-appropriate jobs for your kids (defined in this article as school age through age 16), realize that ALL kids are different. You’ve probably seen the physical changes that happen with boys and girls that start at around age 11 or 12. This happens a bit earlier for some and later for others. We see a young man or woman growing taller, stronger, and changing emotionally as well. As a parent, we take pride in this growing level of maturity – but, we often mistake the changes we see in physical size and strength with ALSO having the ability to solve problems. Or, to think clearly and react safely, quickly and correctly. Or, to pay close attention to complicated tasks and instructions. It takes a while for those abilities to catch up for many kids – and some don’t get fully caught up until their late teens or even early 20s.
To help parents and others who provide care and supervision to children in their effort to keep their kids safe, the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Safety and Health has created safety guidelines to be considered by parents and others for the safety of young people. These materials are based on the most current research and have widespread support from farm organizations nationwide. The website, Cultivate Safety.org has great resources – and SPECIFIC safety guidelines are organized around different types of farm jobs and tasks that frequently involve young people.
There are just over 50 guidelines that have been created with input and guidance from the farming community, safety experts, and current research. These cover jobs like cleaning calf hutches, feeding animals, or operating a tractor connected to PTO-driven machine like a baler. Each guideline covers specific safety information that considers a child’s maturity level – both physical and emotional maturity. It also discusses the level and frequency of adult supervision that is required AND other adult responsibilities. It provides recommended age guidelines where experts feel that an “average” child might be able to perform a given job safely — if they are properly supervised, trained and all safety precautions are followed. To help parents make safety-related determinations with their children, here are direct links to some of the most-used safety guidelines for common tasks here in Wisconsin:
- Operating a Tractor
- Operating a Skid-Steer Loader
- Milking Cows With a Pipeline
- Milking Cows in a Parlor
- Operating Farmstead Equipment
- Lifting Tasks
Please note that there are SPECIFIC legal requirements for any youth under the age of 16 working off of their family’s farm. If a young person is age 14 or 15 hired for certain common farm jobs like operating tractors and field or farmstead machinery, a certification and training is required. This information will be covered in future guidance.
In addition, our partners at the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety have a COVID-19 website containing a more full and comprehensive set of resources for families on child safety including additional links and information for families on issues like safe play areas, homeschooling, and recommendations for youth doing gardening activities.