Are your children certified to operate a tractor?

113.  14,000.  2,700.  No these numbers do not represent number of cows being milked on a farm or a rolling herd average.  These numbers are statistics related injuries and fatalities on farms to youth.

113 – the average number of youth under the age of 20 that die annually in farm related accidents.

14,000 – the estimated number of youth injured on farms in 2012.

2,700 – the number of injuries in 2012 related directly to farm work.

I don’t know about you, but these numbers scare me.  As a mother of three young boys I worry every day that one of them might get hurt on the farm.   We try hard to teach them safety through our words and actions.  They get their fair share of lectures as well when we catch them not being safe.  It was these worries that led me to get involved with the local tractor safety course taught every summer at Southwest Technical College for youth.

This program is taught as part of the National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program (NSTMOP).   The program is funded through the USDA and partnered with Penn State University, Ohio State University, and the National Safety Council to create the curriculum. The curriculum has been updated as recently as 2010. Things started way back in1969 when the U.S. Department of Labor declared many agricultural tasks hazardous to children under the age of 16 in the Hazardous Occupations Order in Agriculture (HOOA).   As part of the declaration back then, the Department of Labor established a procedure allowing children ages 14 and 15 to be exempt from certain portions of the law.  This procedure requires youth to take a safety training program.  Upon completion of the program, youth are issued a certificate which employees need to have on file and the youth needs to carry on them when operating machinery.  I never took a program when I was young, and I should have.  I cannot recall even hearing about a class back in the 1990’s where I grew up.  I sure if my parents new about it, they would have made me take it.

As many of us know from experience, we were doing things on the farm at early ages that were probably not the safest things to be doing.   My husband and I are guilty of sometimes asking our boys to help with certain tasks that can be dangerous.  It is for these personal reasons that I made the decision to help teach the tractor safety certification in Southwest Wisconsin.

The course teaches youth how to probably start a tractor, take off, stop, how to connect and disconnect implements safely, safety basics, and agricultural hazards (grain bins, fires, anhydrous, electric, and more).   They must then pass a written test with a score of at least 70% and pass a driving test losing no more than 400 points.

Different states do things different ways.  In Wisconsin the program is ran through the Extension.  The Extension partners with places like Southwest Tech to teach the class.   States also have slightly different rules specific to that state.  For example in Wisconsin youth as young as 12 can take the class, but they are not issued their federal certificate until they are 14.  For this reason, we had our 12 year old son take the class this summer because we are starting to let him have more responsible on the farm.  Make sure to check with your state as to what their laws are and what their training program consist of.

Understand that this is law.  If youth under the age of 16 are operating farm equipment on roads or for working for someone other than their parents they need to have these certification.  Fines can be up to as much as $10,000 for employers along with imprisonment if something happens.

More information about the NSTMOP can be found online at the Penn State Extension website. I encourage you to check it out and check with your state to see what their requirements are.  Let’s work together to keep youth working on farms safe and lower those statics.  2,700 is way too high for me.

By the way, in the middle of June we ran 3 different classes and had 45 students go through the tractor safety certification program.  That is a good statistic.

Information in this article came from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website and the textbook used for the National Safe Tractor Machinery Operation Program.

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