Many of us who grew up on the farms of yesteryear have fond memories of riding in the back of the grain truck during harvest or sitting on top of a loaded hayrack as it was moved to the yard for unloading.
Thinking back, most of us aren't sure we should have been doing those things or that we'd allow our own children to do the same. It's not that the adults around us weren't safety conscious; in fact, they were as vigilant as humanly possible.
The reality of those times was that, out of necessity, kids on the farm spent most of their formative years alongside their parents as they worked. There were no daycares, although neighbouring farm wives frequently filled in for each other juggling field duties and child care/meal preparation.
It was a way of life that routinely gave extraordinary responsibility to young people and required them to be wise beyond their years. Most rose to the challenge.
If farmyards couldn't be kid-proofed, the kids had to be farm-proofed. So there were rules. Keep an eye on each other. Fence or no fence, there was no playing near the pond unless there was a supervising adult around. When farm equipment was operating, you stayed away from moving parts. The descriptions of what could happen if you didn't were graphic, far more effective than the threat of a spanking.
Kids were warned not to expect the operators to see them. It was drilled into many a farm child that when the grain truck thundered into the yard during harvest, the kids were to stay on the house side of the driveway until it left.
Most survived to boast about those farm experiences. But some didn't, and as farming has continued to grow larger in every way, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the interface between family life and farm work.
That old one-ton truck with a grain box big enough to hold one dump off the combine has long since been replaced by semi-trailers. The small square bales stacked by hand have for the most part been displaced by round bales weighing 590 kilograms.
No loss of life or injury is acceptable. But it took some cold, hard statistics about just how often children were being hurt or killed before safety advocates were able to get the necessary buy-in from the farming community to start changing old attitudes and habits.
The numbers rise and fall, but on average, about 13 children in Canada die on the farm every year. Nearly half of the farm child fatalities involve children under five.
The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association reports nearly 75 per cent of child fatalities on the farm are work-related and the vast majority of incidents involve an adult who was engaged in farm work when the accident occurred. This includes cases where a child is an extra passenger on a piece of farm equipment and falls off or is a bystander and run over by a vehicle backing up.
In 26 per cent of the cases, the child was working when the fatality occurred. Drownings were also a significant cause of death, while falls from height and working or playing with animals accounted for most of the injuries.
Today, the message to farming parents is simple: Don't take the kids to work.
"It is important to keep children away from the farm or ranch work site and agricultural hazards until they are old enough to be assigned age-appropriate tasks," the CASA website says. "They should then be provided with adequate supervision, safety equipment and task-specific training. Children of any age should not be taken as extra riders on tractors and other farm machinery."
As well, safety advocates will be working through CASA and the Progressive Agriculture Safety Days at events over the next few weeks to expose about 13,500 rural youth across Canada to the farm safety message. Daylong events will be held in several rural communities as well as First Nations communities, where the risks are similar, although not related to farm activities.
Reducing rural children's exposure to risk doesn't preclude teaching them about safety. If anything, it makes it even more necessary. There's a whole generation of rural youth, both on the farm and off, who have little grasp of how many ways they can get hurt out there.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at: email@example.com