Gone are the days here where the number of hands determined the success of the farm, regardless of the age of those hands. We no longer have to ask children to risk their health and education to ensure the family farm makes a profit.
That does not lessen the desire for our young people to join in the work of the farm, and that is great news for agriculture’s future. We need their enthusiasm, their energy and their love of agriculture. But we need to remember that we have a responsibility to our young people to teach them the safe ways to do jobs on the farm, and to ensure they are doing jobs that are suitable for their physical and mental maturity.
- Read more: Safety on your farm: it’s not hard
It is an awesome sight to see a young person riding a pen, running a tractor, opening gates or helping in the shop. There is nothing like it to teach ingenuity, work ethic and to strengthen that connection to the land and the animals.
There is nothing more horrifying than to see a youngster involved in a farming accident. Just because a teen or tween desperately wants to help doesn’t mean they are ready to. The old argument of “well I started young” or “My granddad was doing more than that” at that age doesn’t lessen the danger, or our responsibility.
Tweens and teens
Tweens are at that awkward age between a child and a teenager — body is maturing, mind is growing, independence is taking a stronger voice. Gone too often is the eager watcher that you see in younger children. Where just being with you while you do the jobs is enough. They see what you do and dream of the day they too can do it. Tweens are at the age where they truly are starting to think they are ready to start doing work with you.
Teens are those almost-adults who are as tall, or taller, than you, but are still maturing, still growing. More independence and responsibility comes with age — learner’s or even driver’s licenses, being able to stay alone and likely tackle tasks on their own. They look and sound like some of your younger adult farm crew.
Regardless of their experience and maturity (physical and mental) planning for their safety is different than for your regular hired hands.
Tweens and teens are still developing their decision making skills, their ability to discern the difference between a quick finish and a proper one. They also have a “10 foot tall and bullet proof” mentality where risk taking is a thrill, and a close call is reason to brag rather than consider behaviour change.
Physical changes at this age can leave some teens and tweens less than graceful, and their reflexes in situations of high stress can be deadly. They may think they have the skills to handle equipment at a higher speed than is safe. Or think that they can get to a gate quicker than an animal. They may think they can do multiple tasks at one time, safely.
Many hazards teens and tweens face will be new to them, especially if they are just starting to do jobs as workers rather than as observers. They are an age where listening to instructions they feel are unnecessary may cause friction with the adults around them. They think they know it, and want to prove it. Find safe ways for them to do so. Discuss near misses and why they are important learning tools.
Ensuring teens and tweens are safe doesn’t mean an overhaul of your safety plan. It does mean some special considerations for their abilities. They are physically and mentally not adults. Do not have the same expectations of them as you do an adult worker, but apply the same rules. Have clear rules about phones (calls and texting), safety equipment, when and where they can work independently and when they need someone to supervise. Also be clear on who will be supervising — this is on-the-job training, not babysitting. Be clear about their adherence to the safety plan you hold your staff accountable for. Have them offer input when developing safety plans, show them the importance of working safe. Let them take first aid, send them to training sessions.
Most importantly model the actions of safety. They will hear your actions louder than your words. If they see you being safe they will model that. Share with us how you model safety and teach your teens and tweens to be safe partners in agriculture.