Lesson improves rural students' knowledge of farm safety

November 26, 2002

Tampa, FL (Nov. 26, 2002) -- Fifth-graders in rural Hillsborough County, FL schools who completed a lesson in farm safety significantly improved their knowledge of agricultural hazards, a study led by the University of South Florida College of Public Health found.

"This is an important first step," said Karen Liller, PhD, an associate professor of public health at USF and lead author of the study. "Our ultimate goal is to evaluate whether integrating farm safety into the health education curriculum translates into fewer injuries and deaths among children who live and work on farms."

The study was among the first to address migrant farm safety issues among elementary school children. The lesson covered safety around machines, animals and water; diseases and hygiene issues, sun exposure and weather conditions, pesticides, appropriate picking and lifting techniques, and protective gear. Particular emphasis was given to unique farming conditions in Florida, including migrant farm labor.

The findings are published this month in the quarterly Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health.

Agriculture can be especially dangerous for children. A previous study by Dr. Liller found that the leading causes of fatal injuries for children on Florida farms were machinery related, including falls from tractors; horses (being trampled, struck or entangled in ropes); and drownings.

Working with the MORE HEALTH community health education program of Tampa General Hospital, Dr. Liller and colleagues developed, implemented and evaluated a farm safety program for fifth-graders, in 15 Hillsborough County elementary schools, including the schools with large numbers of migrant and Hispanic children. Nearly, 2000 children, ages 9 to 11, participated in the lesson taught by MORE HEALTH instructors.

The lesson incorporated nationally recognized standards for farm safety, including the North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks. Interactive exercises and visually-appealing props were integrated into the lesson. Materials sent to teachers and parents before and after the class were designed to help reinforce the safety concepts.

All agricultural questions where children scored less than 50 percent correct on the pretest increased to greater than 50 percent on the posttest. The percentages of correct answers increases from the pretest to the posttest for every question except one. Nearly all the participating classroom teachers rated the quality of the lesson and the MORE HEALTH instructors excellent.

According to Dr. Liller, the next steps include determining if the students' knowledge gains remain and if these gains result in behavioral changes in parents and children that reduce children's farm-related injuries and deaths.

University of South Florida (USF Health)

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