SIKESTON -- As agriculture has evolved, the risks associated with it have, too. That's why safety on ATVs and tractors, especially for children, is being stress during Nation Farm Safety and Health Week, which began Sunday and will end on Saturday.
"Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States," said Bob Yearsley, agriculture teacher at Charleston High School. "Tractors and ATVs are accidents waiting to happen. All it takes is one second of carelessness and you've got an injury."
According to the National Safety Council, there were 703 deaths and 90,000 disabling injuries nationally attributed to agriculture in 2005. Agriculture ranks as the most dangerous industry in Missouri.
Yearsley said he briefly talks about farm safety in class this week, but goes into more detail later, since it's still pretty early in the school year.
Monsanto, which is located in Matthews, puts on several safety seminars and puppet plays throughout the year. Robert Cook, safety technician there, said they tend to put on more programs in the late fall, too.
"We cover everything from grain safety to rural driving," he said. Other topics include ATV safety, barnyard safety and flowing grain safety, he said.
Although some children learn about safety only through these seminars, others learn through experience.
Almost 15 years ago, Sikeston resident Janie King's brother was electrocuted and killed because he wasn't wearing the proper safety gloves while welding in the back of a combine.
"We've used that as an example with our kids -- they know now not to look at someone welding if they don't have the proper glasses," King said.
Her son Sam, who now attends Mississippi State helped on the farm, and now her 6-year-old, Liza, helps dad Robert on the farm. Safety is an issue that has been drilled and always comes first, King said.
"Any time she hears a vehicle start up, she knows to go to the front of it," King said. Additionally, Liza buckles her seat belt at all times and wears her seat belt while on the combine.
When she was 3, Liza's hair got tangled in a shop fan. "She was too close and her hair got hung up on the motor," King said. "It took us all night to get it untangled and we had to cut her hair out of the fan."
That's taught them to keep hair pulled back, and not wear loose clothing, either.
One of the most important things to think of before having a child work on the farm is whether they are mature enough and like the work, said Beth Rolwing. Her son Ryan, 15, often helps dad Richard on the farm.
"That is a big determining factor if you're going to let a teenager do things on a farm," she said. "With the big equipment, things can go wrong so quickly -- you can't be too comfortable."
Ryan helps operate some of the machinery and is responsible for all the mowing. While on the mower and other loud equipment, he is supposed to keep his earplugs in at all times, Rolwing said.
He has several other rules too, such as wearing goggles and staying away from some machinery. But the biggest is quite simple -- to stay alert.
Kevin Linley, manager at Delta Growers, said it's important to teach children to keep their hands to themselves while helping out -- such as out of augers and away from gears.
He said customers usually buy extra items such as gloves and dust masks for their children. "Sometimes we remind them, but most of the time they do it on their own," he said.
Linley's main piece of advice for farmers and their children is to slow down and pay attention. "Let safety be first instead of getting in a hurry," he said. "Take a minute or two to check it out."
Cook said Monsanto representatives also urge people to slow down and prioritize safety. It's imperative that someone be familiar with machinery before they operate it, too.
At Medlin Equipment, sales associates hand out safety brochures to help educate farm workers. "We also go over the operation and safety of the equipment," said manager Steve Baehr.
And although life on the farm may be risky, it can also teach valuable lessons. "My children are not scared of hard work," King said. "It just gives them such a work ethic."
The Missouri Department of Agriculture offers the following safety tips to assist in keeping farmers and their families safe:
* Get plenty of rest during long work periods and take frequent breaks.
* Never allow extra riders on tractors or let underage drivers operate farm vehicles.
* Don't wear loose clothing or dangling jewelry when working with farm machinery.
* Make sure that all equipment is in proper working order.
* Discuss safety issues as a family and determine age-appropriate farm chores.
* Take the entire family on a walk to identify potentially harmful situations.
* Make sure chemicals are clearly marked and are stored in secure, locked places.
* Be prepared for emergencies: Learn first aid and keep emergency numbers handy.