Just a quick reminder about the upcoming harvest season: Please stay safe.

The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety reports “the 2018 data for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the agricultural sector is still the most dangerous in America with 574 fatalities, or an equivalent of 23.4 deaths per 100,000 workers. Fall harvest time can be one of the busiest and most dangerous seasons of the year for the agriculture industry.”

This year, we’re also dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including your children’s schooling. Most likely, your children or grandchildren will be spending more time at home on the farm this fall.

Always an exciting time for youngsters, fall harvest can lead to distractions and possibly dangerous situations for kids.

Gary Woodruff, district manager for grain bin manufacturer GSI, notes that child safety can be overlooked around grain bins.

“They may consider the farmstead, including the grain drying and storage system, as their playground,” he says. “It‘s critical that parents talk to children regularly about the dangers and take special care during harvest to ensure their safety.”

“As always, safety equipment such as belt and chain guards must be in place and maintained,” continues Woodruff. “It’s not uncommon to see guards at auger fill and other dump points removed for expediency, risking serious injury or death. Electrical rooms should be locked to keep curious children out. ...

“Ladders and catwalks can entice children and young adults, as well. As grain storage systems increase in size, it’s even more important to guard against those who may attempt to climb them.

“Also, traffic areas where semi-trucks and heavy equipment regularly travel can become safer by farmers adding signage and enforcing a 10 mph speed limit.”

“Grain drying and storage installations are commercial sites, and all of the safety practices and rules typical of a large grain elevator should become the rule,” concludes Woodruff. “It’s important for everyone, including children looking for their next exploring adventure.”

Adventures and safety risks can come along when children have access to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or utility terrain vehicles (UTVs), as well.

According to 2019 data released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the most common fatal events for youth working on farms were the result of transportation incidents, with tractors, ATVs and UTVs as the primary vehicle sources. In the U.S. alone, about 40,000 children under the age of 16 are treated in emergency departments for ATV-related injuries each year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

ATV/UTV safety certainly has come to the forefront with many organizations.

The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center and the National Farm Medicine Center recently shared information highlighting the increase in ATV incidents involving youth this year.

The organizations described a possible connection with increases in ATV injuries during this time of the COVID 19 pandemic, as compared to the same time last year.

The Childhood Agricultural Safety Network, a coalition of over 70 organizations working together to help keep children safe on the farm, offers a variety of safety-related resource material for parents and kids. Go online to www.cultivatesafety.org to find statistics, posters and brochures including “Agricultural Youth Work Guidelines,” “ATV Riding Is Not Child’s Play,” “Basic Principles for Training Teens,” and much more.

Farm safety organizations and manufacturers also are working together to educate farm families, hoping to reduce, if not eliminate, injuries due to improper use of ATV/UTVs.

For example, the Progressive Agriculture Foundation has partnered with Polaris to help educate children on safe riding practices for ATV/UTVs. Polaris has donated more than $40,000 and a youth UTV to support the Progressive Agriculture Safety Day program.

The donation from Polaris will support the development of digital resources focused on ATV/UTV safety that can be used for virtual Progressive Agriculture Safety Day events.

If you’re looking for a quick checklist for safer ATV/UTV operations, check out the Recreational Off Highway Vehicle Association website. Yes, their safety rules include “reading and following the operator’s manual and warning labels.” After all, those manuals and labels are there to promote safe use. Manufacturers and dealers both want to see you back as a satisfied customer.

Other basic rules include:

  • Always fasten your seat belt, wear a helmet and other protective gear;
  • Avoid paved surfaces. ATV/UTVs are designed to be operated off-highway;
  • Drive only in designated areas, at a safe speed and use care when turning and crossing slopes;
  • Never drive or ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
  • Never carry more passengers than the unit is designed for, and never allow a passenger who is too small to sit in a passenger seat to ride along with you.

Remember, these things are not toys.

There’s so much to think about during harvest season. Safe equipment operation, especially by and around children, should be top of mind.

Michael Gustafson has written for and about farm equipment companies, their products and dealerships for more than 40 years, including 25 years with John Deere. He lives on a small acreage in Dennison, Ill.