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UF Safety Camps Bring Attention To Home Perils Around The Farm

Chris Eversole

Carol Lehtola (352) 392-8064

GAINESVILLE—Like any other business, agriculture can be dangerous, but the University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension Service is making it safer through programs targeted at children.

This effort includes conducting farm safety camps, helping establish a state chapter of “Farm Safety 4 Just Kids” and assisting in publishing national agricultural safety guidelines for children. Farm safety camps have been held in Palm Beach, Columbia, Highlands and Jackson counties, and more than 1,200 youths and parents have attended.

The camps, co-sponsored by Progressive Farmer magazine, have three goals, said Carol Lehtola, extension safety specialist with the UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

First, they are aimed at reducing accidents related to agriculture, which kill 100 children and seriously injure 100,000 a year. “We need to do all we can to raise the awareness among children and parents of what to do to increase safety,” Lehtola said.

A second goal is for campers to take safety messages home. “Several kids said my mom does that, and I’m going to tell her it’s dangerous,'” Highlands County Extension Agent Molly Kostenbauder said.

The camps also help children who don’t live on farms become more cautious. “In our rural area, farming touches the lives of everyone,” said Palm Beach County Extension Agent Laurie Hurner. “Kids who don’t live on farms may encounter agricultural equipment on the road, or they may be tempted to swim in irrigation canals.”

Equipment poses one of the biggest dangers in agriculture. “We emphasize that kids should never operate equipment without training and that they should not hitch a ride on tractors and other machinery,” Lehtola said.

Drowning also is a major problem on farms. The Palm Beach County camp warned participants about the dangers of playing around or swimming in irrigation canals and ponds. “We taught the campers about using a reaching tool such as a tree limb or anything you can find to save your buddy,” said 4-H Farm Program Leader Kim Coldicott.

Fun activities are important at the camps. In a training exercise on the Heimlich Maneuver, staff of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue had campers squeeze corked plastic milk cartons filled with air until the corks popped out.

“A 5-year-old in Texas who had seen her teacher demonstrate the Heimlich Maneuver recently saved her 2-year-old brother,” said Gerri Penney, community education coordinator for Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.

The fire rescue organization finds that the camps are an excellent way to teach safety, Penney said. “We see lots of kids injured, including ones who are hurt on farm equipment or who are kicked by livestock, so we want to help keep these injuries from happening.”

The camps also cover bicycle, lawnmower, home and large animal safety. “We also give firearm safety tips, emphasizing that you shouldn’t even pick up a gun unless you have been taught how to use it, and that all guns should have locks,” Hurner said.

Many businesses and community groups help the camps succeed. In Palm Beach County, the trauma unit/health care district and the sheriff’s department donated bike helmets to the campers, and the fire rescue department gave them smoke alarms.

More than 70,000 campers have participated in the program since Progressive Farmer, based in Birmingham, Ala., began them in 1995. “We created the program because of the many heartbreaking stories we’ve heard from our readers about their loved ones needlessly being injured or killed through unsafe practices,” Editor Jack Odle said.

For more information on the camping program, call the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Service at (352) 392-8064. UF/IFAS also is promoting agricultural safety with youths through the Deep South Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, one of nine regional centers funded by the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety.

The center, headquartered at the University of South Florida, has started a state chapter of the Farm Safety 4 Just Kids program, a national organization founded by an Iowa mother whose son was killed when he became trapped in a grain wagon.

UF’s Lehtola is an adviser for the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks Project, which last month published booklets that help parents match their sons’ and daughters’ abilities with requirements of agricultural jobs.

More information on agricultural safety is available at http://agen.uf, the Web site of the Florida Agsafe Network.