Oct 16, 2014
Take steps to integrate safety, agritourism

Safety should be at the top of every agritourism operation’s business plan, and there are resources available to identify areas of concern and ways to effectively address those issues.

Marsha Salzwedel, agricultural youth safety specialist with the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety (NCCRAHS), provides guidance for childhood injury prevention programs.

As part of that effort, the Wisconsin-based NCCRAHS provides a wide range of services related to children and adolescents living in rural areas and working in agricultural environments.

“One of the challenges we faced initially with any safety efforts when working with farms – and the general population as well – is for them to realize safety isn’t something extra,” Salzwedel said. “It’s something that should be part of your business plan. And, you can assume some measures are going to cost money to institute and follow up.”

NCCRAHS conducted a survey of farmers earlier this year to help identify agritourism safety and health issues that were not previously addressed in the group’s Agritourism Health and Safety Guidelines, which are updated regularly on the organization’s website.

The “Integrating Safety into Agritourism” website includes categorized breakdowns of proper safety approaches based on research conducted for a number of years by NCCRAHS and others.

Using survey responses from agriculture operators, including answers from 101 members of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA), Salzwedel said they were able to identify the most common types of agricultural activities in order to pinpoint “gaps” in the website’s materials, and to know what resources should be added going forward.

“There are about 30 million children visiting farms every year,” Salzwedel said. “Many of them are from the city and are unfamiliar with some of the hazards. They see a tractor, and think it’s cool looking, but don’t understand the dangers. Likewise, the parents tend to be from the city and do not realize what some of the dangers are.”

She said the responsibility falls to the farmer, who assumes a good share of the liability by bringing people to the farm. Much of her work focuses on general farm safety, not just those aspects impacting the younger population.

“If there is an injury incident, whether as part of a regular farm or an agritourism activity, there are a lot of negative consequences to the farm. Attendance can go down; sometimes you get sued. Depending on what happens, this can close down the farm or operation. If they have instituted safety efforts and can document what they did, it can be really important. Take a picture. Write it down. Have a written policy.

“If you do this, you are less likely to have an incident,” said Salzwedel, who believes if those who are prepared in advance get sued, “they will have something to fall back on. Pictures, signs – that all goes a long way in a court of law.”

She said when farm operators are diligent about working with their insurance companies to communicate what they are offering and what needs to be covered on their farm, there are less likely to be problems when incidents take place. Insurance is one area that is being addressed on the organization’s website.

“People don’t realize if they’ve had a farm all of their life and they add a corn maze, a lot of insurance policies have a business exclusion,” she said. “A more commercial-type agritourism piece might not be covered under your current policy. Where there are coverage gaps, that’s what you need to check for. If you put in something new and don’t tell the insurance company – if they don’t know it’s there – it’s not covered. Give them some guidance and check things out with your insurance company.”

She said many agritourism offerings include simple installations of a play area with a swing set or slide, but they don’t install enough protective ground covering to curb potential injuries.

“There are more than 200,000 injuries a year on public playgrounds,” Salzwedel said. “This adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in emergency room visits. Those types of injuries can be cut in half if appropriate protective ground cover is installed. A lot of farmers don’t realize this. It will cost some money to do. In the long run it can cut the number of injuries from falls in half.”

Salzwedel, who comes from a third-generation farm operation that offers agritainment features, said NCCRAHS works with an advisory team of farmers in order to keep its website resources useful and practical. It also counsels farms by conducting walkthroughs to point out safety deficiencies and ways to correct them.

“They don’t want to just know what they’re doing wrong, but also to give them the tools so they can fix it,” she said. “For instance, we will provide a whole section on our website on farm markets. It’s important to think about the risks of having stands by the side of busy roads. People can get hit, so get the stand off the road a ways.

“Everything we put on the website is based on good, solid research and materials,” she said. “As we move from area to area, we bring in a content expert. For example, Heather Olson, who has a doctorate degree from the University of Iowa and is with the national playground inspection school, is part of our team right now. For farm markets, we bring in somebody who is an expert on farm markets. The same with animal safety issues.”

Salzwedel said NCCRAHS works with the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies to offer instructions on inspecting agritourism operations.

“Some of the things that are talked about are hair-raising,” she said. “We’ve heard of farms icing down silos and letting people climb on them with cleats. There are homemade ziplines. Farmers, including my father, are very inventive. If he needed something and couldn’t buy it, he would just make it himself. That brings in some safety issues. “


Many states have successfully enacted agritourism liability protection legislation that recognizes “there are some risks inherent in agritourism attractions. What the liability law says is those risks are there and you can’t hold the farmer responsible for that,” she said.

A Wisconsin measure was passed after legislators were told of the extent to which agritourism operators had taken advantage of educational seminars held throughout the state.

“That initiative helped get the farmers those protections,” she said. “We are seeing those protections take place at a rate of about four or five a year across the country. About half of the states have it in place. The law varies by state, as well.

“You still have to follow the best practices for safety, exercise ordinary care and discover dangers and follow best methods for addressing them,” Salzwedel said.

The movement has gained support from the traditionally opposing trial lawyers’ lobby, she said, “but we got them to buy into this. It’s not saying you can’t ever be sued. If you do something totally negligent, you can still get sued. But (the legislation) offers really good protection we didn’t have before this.”

Salzwedel said safety outreach efforts have been effective for the most part.

“Since 2001, injuries have been going down,” although farm incidents involving children under age 10 have increased.

“About 40 percent of injuries to children on farms are to visiting kids. That’s not just for agritourism operations but for others who may just be visiting a farm, or don’t live on that farm.”

She cited statistics found here that indicate that every three days, a child dies in a farm-related accident. The findings document that every single day, 45 children are injured on the farm – with children age six or younger the most vulnerable to farm injury.

The prevailing injuries to children under 10 involve vehicles, tractors and farm machinery. Because of that, NCCRAHS is targeting tractor incidents, she said.

“In the next several months, we will be conducting a ‘keep off tractors’ campaign. We want to provide some additional information. What are the alternatives and how do you get children interested in farming without giving them rides on tractors, because it’s so hazardous to do that.”

The center also will look at family farm youth employment and assessing whether “the child is ready to do this job,” she said.

Ag safety grant

Recognizing the role played by NCCRAHS in the “steady decline of childhood agricultural nonfatal injury rates over the past decade,” the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently awarded the center a $1.2 million per year competitive grant renewal for a five-year cycle.

NIOSH has funded NCCRAHS since 1997. The center also is supported by Marshfield Clinic, donations and smaller grants.

NCCRAHS is a program of the National Farm Medicine Center, and part of Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation.

“This major award will significantly expand our efforts to integrate proven safety strategies into the programs of organizations and businesses that are best-positioned to influence the safety of children living and working on farms,” said Barbara Lee, director of NCCRAHS. “We expect to facilitate partnerships with private sector organizations such as agricultural employer associations, insurance companies, bankers and youth-serving groups, to ensure that optimal safety interventions and guidelines are sustained beyond the span of the grant period.

“Innovative approaches will address safety for beginning farmers and ranchers, child care services for migrant and seasonal farm worker parents, and supervisor training of youth hired for agricultural employment,” she said.

Gary Pullano

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