Take another sip of chocolate milk and think back to those good old days when you were a kid on the farm — when you stole eggs from the happy hens, rode with dad on the tractor and broke up bales of hay for the cows. What do you remember most? You were definitely not being safe all the time but then as a young kid, that probably never occurred to you. Right?
Margaret Friesen wondered if today’s young kids are any different. Do preschoolers know what it means to be safe on the farm? Friesen is a researcher and professor in the department of occupational therapy at the University of Manitoba. Last year, she received a grant from the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s CASHP program to study “Children’s perspective on farm safety.”
Margaret knew that research shows children living on farms are exposed to many dangers in their environment — through play activities and while accompanying adults in their work on the farm. In fact, the incidence of fatal injuries to children, aged one to six years, living on Canadian farms is nearly twice that of the general population.
The rate of injuries and fatalities involving young children decreased somewhat from 1990 to 2005, but numbers have not dropped substantially in the past decade. Friesen wondered if what kids think is safe or unsafe would help safety professionals come up with better ideas to protect kids on the farm. She also wanted to understand family values and beliefs concerning the management of children’s safety on the family farm.
She and her team asked seven children, aged five and six (four boys and three girls) and their families to take part in the study. The participants lived on family farms in B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The children were asked to take digital photos of safe and unsafe situations on the family farm. Parents participated in the photo surveys and in the discussions that followed.
Those discussions were revealing. Here’s a snapshot:
Children consistently identified “standing in front of the truck” or “behind the semi,” and moving parts on farm equipment as unsafe. Not all children, however, indicated whether it was unsafe to stand behind or beside a moving vehicle, suggesting that they had a less-than-complete comprehension of the safety of this activity.
Some children indicated that their play areas, including play structures and the garden or the areas surrounded by grass or near the house, were considered safe.
Children described several unsafe places including roads, dugouts or wells, areas with chemicals, gas tanks, old barns/sheds and areas with sharp objects, such as nails or metal that could cut them or cause infection.
Children identified cows as both safe and unsafe. They were considered unsafe as they could kick or charge at people, or sometimes a “shocker was used” to control them. They were described as safe if behind a fence when touching them. Pigs were described by children as safe to look at, but unsafe because “they can bite,” and that “you should not put your hand out to them.”
Children reported they were safe when they were with a parent or “big adult.” This was true for riding on a tractor, feeding calves or being in a machine shop.
So what did their parents think about the findings? Friesen notes several parents expressed surprise that their kids remembered as much as they did from their teaching but they were also dismayed at what the child did not remember or when the child could not say why something was not safe.
The team expressed concern about the parents’ skills and priorities about how to teach both safety and promote family values about farming. They said it was clear that this area needs further exploration and study to come up with a “better” way to teach safe behaviours in a way that is acceptable or consistent with family values about farming.
What do you think? How can we keep kids safer on the farm? Let CASA know via Twitter http://twitter.com/planfarmsafety or find us on Facebook.