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Columbus, Ohio

Protecting Children in Our Nation's Most Dangerous Industry: Agriculture


Why injury? It's this simple: more children die from injuries every year than from the next three leading causes of death combined. Nobody knows this because no one is talking about it. In the U.S., one child dies every hour from an injury that could have been prevented. Around the world, a child dies every 30 seconds as the result of an injury. You don’t need to have a child to know that we can do better.


Protecting Children in Our Nation's Most Dangerous Industry: Agriculture

Guest Blogger

As a pediatric nurse working in a rural hospital in the late 1970s, I learned first-hand about the devastating effects of traumatic agriculture-related injuries affecting children of all ages. Farm equipment is designed to chop, grind, and spew out materials, and the size of tractors, machinery, and livestock are huge in contrast to small children. These agents of injury take a terrible toll on small bodies, and the emotional effect on families can be overwhelming. 

From hospital nursing I transitioned to the National Farm Medicine Center (NFMC) in Marshfield, WI with opportunities for research and education/training. During my first week at NFMC, four farm parents visited and requested guidance on how to protect their small children from trauma. I was stunned to learn so little information was available. As a child, I had grown up in a construction family and loved visiting Dad’s project sites, but we abided by “off-limits” work areas, physical barriers, and laws that restricted children’s work. In contrast, family farm safety strategies were based on tradition and “common sense.” Farm mothers, especially those who had not been raised on farms, were pleading for written guidelines to make sound decisions about their children’s involvement in farming operations. This was happening at the same time young parents were being required to use child safety car seats and bicycle helmets; thus, the concept of proactively preventing farm injuries was in line with other informed parenting practices.  

The process of determining what type of guidance farm parents need and what the content of voluntary standards should entail launched a very rewarding career that continues to this day. Since we hosted the first National Symposium on Childhood Agricultural Injury Prevention in 1992, we have collaborated with safety professionals across the U.S. and Canada to develop guidelines for children’s work and children’s play in agriculture. In 1999, the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT) were released, and they have endured as the primary resource for children on family farms. The Creating Safe Play Areas on Farms recommendations provide guidance for non-working children. Other variations of voluntary guidelines have been developed and are readily available at

The rates of non-fatal childhood agricultural injuries have declined by more than 50% since 1998. But we know our work will not be complete until all children are protected from preventable injuries associated with our nation’s most dangerous industry - agriculture.


About the author: Barbara Lee, RN, PhD, is a senior scientist with the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield, WI, where she has directed the NIOSH-funded National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety since its establishment in 1997.  She has chaired major efforts to set a national agenda for childhood agricultural injury prevention and led initiatives to develop voluntary standards for children’s work in agriculture and for protecting non-working children who live on and visit farms.  She is past president of the National Institute for Farm Safety and currently provides administrative guidance for the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America.


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