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Choosing Age-Appropriate Chores
As long as there have been farm kids, there have been chores for farm kids. The kids can be a big help, and chores provide a healthy work ethic, teach responsibility, and give them a sense of purpose.
Unfortunately, there are risks involved. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 33,000 children have farm-related injuries each year in the U.S., with more than 100 of those injuries leading to death. Of those deaths, 23% involve machinery, 19% involve motor vehicles and ATVs, and 16% are due to drowning.
Considering that more than 1 million young people (under age 20) live on U.S. farms, 33,000 injuries and 100 deaths may not seem like a huge number, but if it’s your child who’s hurt or injured, the statistics don’t matter.
The list below outlines appropriate work tasks for kids, according to Penn State University Extension. Remember, though, each child’s size and development should be taken into consideration.
While some 10-year-olds may be physically large and strong enough to drive a tractor, for example, they likely won’t have the cognitive ability to perceive a potentially dangerous situation or to react in an emergency. Kids ages 10 to 13 are the most at risk because they are often clumsy, are easily distracted, and are willing to take risks.
One way to help kids and adults stay safe is to use Job Safety Analysis (JSA). A simple form for each job is filled out and stored near the job site. It outlines the personal protective equipment required, basic job steps, potential hazards of each step, and action to take to avoid danger. You can download a PDF of a blank JSA form here.
It’s also a good idea to involve children in safety audits. Discuss injuries that could happen as you walk around your farm. For example, at the livestock pen, talk about how easy it is for a seemingly tame animal to cause injury. Remind children to feed and water animals from outside the pen. Pay close attention to the most dangerous areas. Silos, grain bins, farm ponds, manure pits, and barn hay-drop openings are areas where injuries often happen.
No amount of training can replace proper supervision. Be patient with your children and remember you may need to go over the rules for a specific chore several times. As kids get older, supervision is still important. Check in regularly to make sure they’re following all safety rules.
It’s up to you to make sure your kids are as safe as possible. With proper training and supervision, today’s farm kids will become tomorrow’s farmers.
Appropriate Work Tasks for Kids
Birth to age 4
- Main Causes Of Farm Deaths And Injuries: Fall from heights, ingest poison, kicked or trampled by animals, run over by tractor, drowning
- Preventive Strategies: Don’t allow equipment rides, fence around ponds and manure pits, lock chemicals, fence in play area, supervise constantly
- Age-Appropriate Work Tasks: None (children this age should not be exposed to work hazards)
Ages 5 to 9
- Main Causes Of Farm Deaths And Injuries: Fall from machinery, auger or machinery entanglement, grain suffocation, trampled or kicked by animal
- Preventive Strategies: Set rules, discuss safe behavior, supervise chores, keep away from augers and machinery, keep away from grain bin
- Age-Appropriate Work Tasks: Collect eggs, water plants, help feed pets and small animals, work on projects with hand tools under supervision
Ages 10 to 13
- Main Causes Of Farm Deaths And Injuries: Machinery entanglement, hearing loss, fall from equipment, head and spine injury from motorcycle or ATV accidents
- Preventive Strategies: Require helmets, don’t allow extra riders, set rules, educate on farm hazard prevention, plan gradual increase in responsibilities
- Age-Appropriate Work Tasks: Rake, dig, use hand tools, use limited power tools with supervision, push-mow with supervision, handle and assist with animals
Ages 13 to 16
- Main Causes Of Farm Deaths And Injuries: Hearing loss, head and spine injury from motorcycle or ATV accidents, machinery rollover/roadway accident, PTO entanglement
- Preventive Strategies: Base tasks on size and maturity, provide rules and education, require ATV training and protective gear, participate in 4-H or FFA safety projects
- Age-Appropriate Work Tasks: Operate and maintain equipment under supervision, feed animals, operate tractor and implements at age 14 after 10-hour training course
Ages 16 to 18
- Main Causes Of Farm Deaths And Injuries: Respiratory illness, hearing loss, muscle/bone injuries, tractor rollover, machinery entanglements, drugs/alcohol
- Preventive Strategies: Provide rules for drugs and alcohol, reward for accepting adult responsibilities, work side by side on new tasks
- Age-Appropriate Work Tasks: With supervision, operate tractor, self-propelled machinery, auger, and elevator once trained and responsibility is earned