Mayo Clinic study finds machinery leading cause of childhood farm injuries

September 22, 1999

ROCHESTER, MINN. -- A Mayo Clinic study of farm-related injuries to children and adolescents serves as a strong reminder as harvest time approaches that families need to use caution as children work in and around farm machinery.

Researchers discovered the majority of injuries were caused by machinery (46 percent) and large animals (25 percent). Falls and soft-tissue injuries accounted for most of the remaining injuries.

"The major opportunities for improvement are in education and prevention," says Scott Zietlow, M.D., a Mayo Clinic trauma surgeon who has studied the issue. "As with any trauma condition, childhood farm injuries should be viewed as preventable and not accepted as a way of life in a hazardous environment."

"Death and disability from agricultural trauma remain alarmingly high despite advances in prehospital and trauma care," Zietlow says.

Mayo Clinic physicians studied a recent six-year period (1991-1997) in which 143 children and adolescents less than 18 years of age were admitted to a Level 1 trauma center for farm-related injuries.

The analysis of injuries showed that most occur in the afternoon, with the highest numbers occurring between 5 and 6 p.m. Researchers also found that the age of the child and the pattern of injury were predictable, which could lead to better education programs and caution on farms.

For instance, the study found that preschool children (ages 0-6 years) suffered head and upper extremity trauma from falls, injuries related to large animals and injuries resulting from their proximity to tractor or machinery accidents. Researchers surmised that this might reflect lack of supervision or physical barriers to protect them from hazards. The school-age children (6-12 years) were often involved in mutilating farm equipment injuries of both upper and lower extremities. This likely comes from age-inappropriate tasks that often require greater physical, mental or emotional maturity than are present at this age. And while adolescents (age 12-18 years) experienced a range of injuries, most were related to machinery.

The study of the statistics also is helping in the emergency response, which is critical in areas where rural geography can pose a challenge for timely and advanced pre-hospital care. The study was published in the July, 1999, issue of The American Surgeon.
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