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Ag's untimely harvest

CHERYL TEVIS Updated: 09/19/2011 @ 3:17pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

During National Farm Safety and Health Week September 18-24, there's cause for celebration regarding agriculture's most precious crop: children. But there's no reason for complacency.

In 1987, one year after her 11-year-old son, Keith, suffocated in a gravity flow grain wagon, Marilyn Adams launched Farm Safety 4 Just Kids (FS4JK). FS4JK has grown to 121 chapters in 27 states and four Canadian provinces.

FS4JK was joined by other child safety advocates, and the good news today is the injury rate for children who visit, live, or work on farms has dropped almost 60% since 1998, according to a 2011 federal fact sheet. For children living on farms, it's down by 48%. The rate of injury takes into account fewer kids on fewer farms.

The bad news is that we still have inadequate statistics on the number of children who die each year in farm-related incidents. What we do know is that kids continue to die in grain bins and wagons. As you can see in the graph below, children ages 1-15 were involved in about 20% of grain-related fatalities on farms. The average age of children who suffocate in grain wagons is 10 years old. Five out of the six 2008 cases involving youth under age 16 resulted in death.

Some of these fatalities are teens hired as employees. A high-profile case in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, last year underscores the reason why youth under age 16 are not legally permitted to work in spaces that pose a risk of suffocation, including grain storage (Visit www.agsafety4youth.info).

Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alex Pacas, 19, were sent into a grain bin to break up clumps of grain. It was Alex's second day on the job. According to investigators, the teens received little or no safety training and had no farm background. A group of farmers had bought the bin from a commercial company.

OSHA has levied over $555,000 in fines. Since the ownership of grain in the bins is under dispute, the case may be in the courts and mediation for some time.

That same month, two Michigan teens died while power-washing a silo. The silo was 10 feet tall and only accessible from a small opening at the top. Silo gas is suspected of overcoming the teens.

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