Keeping kids safe
Marilyn Adams still recalls the beauty of the sunrise she saw from her kitchen window on October 15, 1986. She never imagined that 24 hours later, she would watch the dawn of a new day from the window of a Des Moines, Iowa, hospital room, where her 11-year-old son, Keith, was on life support.
"We had no idea how dangerous a gravity-flow wagon could be," Adams says. "Keith was just a little boy. But he was left alone to do an adult job."One year after Keith suffocated in a gravity-flow grain wagon, Adams launched Farm Safety 4 Just Kids (FS4JK). This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the nonprofit she created to raise awareness of health and safety hazards for children on farms. In those 25 years, FS4JK has reached about 6 million farm and rural youth and families.
Grain suffocation warning decals are standard today on new gravity-flow wagons. But in 1987, as her daughter, Kelly, researched the dangers of flowing grain for an FFA public speaking contest, Adams found a 1979 Purdue University recommendation for warning decals. She realized no action had been taken.
She helped Iowa FFA apply for a grant to design and distribute warning decals for gravity flow wagons and bins. Next, she convinced members of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers to appoint her to a committee that was writing safety standards for gravity-flow wagons."I didn't know what to do," she says. "We were just a family reaching out to find a way to provide other farm families with safety information we never had."
At the time, Adams says the farm community had the stoic mind-set that accidents were an unfortunate, but unavoidable, part of working on farms.
She began to speak out, using her unique platform as a farm woman and mother grieving the loss of her son. "No one could tell me a child's death was a cost of doing business," Adams says. "I believed then and believe now that most injuries and fatalities can be prevented."
By December 1988, she had obtained start-up funds from a fledging Iowa group, the National Coalition for Agricultural Safety and Health (N-CASH). "I needed to do more than tell my story," she says. "I needed help to save the lives of kids working on farms."But she had no solid data documenting children's involvement in farm chores.
Working with University of Illinois researchers, Successful Farming magazine agreed to survey 421 of its readers with children ages 15 and younger. The results revealed about 65% of farm boys were driving tractors before age 12. Almost 30% were driving tractors at ages 7 to 9.When Adams testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in support of N-CASH in 1989, she used the survey results published in the February 1989 issue of Successful Farming magazine to reinforce her testimony. "It was all I had," she says.