By Jennifer Dorsett
Farm child safety is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Scott Heiberger, communications manager for National Farm Medicine Center.
“Most of the country, when people go to work, they go to their offices. They leave their home. But when it comes to agriculture, a lot of times the work site is also the home. And so from that standpoint, of course, the safety factor continues, whether it was prior to COVID-19 or after COVID-19,” Heiberger said in an interview with Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network. “But now it is such an extreme situation, and families are spread so thin. With kids home more, it is an opportunity for them to help out more, especially during the peak spring and fall seasons. Not having kids in activities or school might give you some hours to do some of the more hazardous jobs. We have to recognize the realities.”
National Farm Medicine Center can help families manage their children’s safety on the farm.
To assist in the short-term, Heiberger said the organization created a “Children’s Center” on the website, pulling together all child-related safety resources.
“There we have our have our ag youth work guidelines to help parents assign jobs to kids based on developmental ability to make sure the child is matched to the job,” Heiberger said.
For younger children and especially those under the age of six, the center stresses the importance of a safe play area with a barrier to keep kids away from hazardous conditions.
National Farm Medicine Center also plans to collect data to assist in advocacy efforts on policy and legislative issues.
“Maybe we can get some more help as far as rural childcare and have more of a plan for that,” Heiberger said. “Because if we’re asking this farm population to feed the world, it would be nice if we could also help them out and maybe give some real solutions as far as childcare.”
Heiberger noted the National Farm Medicine Center recently received a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to help improve child farm safety.
“We have some longer-term projects looking at childcare in rural areas and ATV operation, and something called the Farm Kid Paradox, where we look at not only the hazardous things about growing up on a farm, but we try to quantify and get into some kind of data form the positive aspects of growing up on a farm, like building a good work ethic and responsibility,” he said. “We’re excited to try to put some data on there, so that we can be better advocates for farm families. So, when we’re trying to get better childcare in rural areas, and we’re maybe trying to inform policy on ATV operation, we’ll have some actual numbers that we can share.”