What began as “quality time” for a 56-year-old man and his 7-year-old grandson ended with both dead following a tractor overturn. The grandfather was attempting to pull a tree out of the ground with a chain when the tractor flipped over backwards.

The incident on a western New York farm, near Wales Center, on May 3, underscores the danger of allowing extra riders on tractors, particularly young children. Of the estimated 100-plus farm-related deaths to children each year, most will die in incidents involving tractors and other machinery.

The tragedy mirrored an incident in 2013 on a Minnesota farm, which also claimed the lives of a grandfather and grandson.

Incidents such as these led to the Childhood Agricultural Safety Network’s national campaign to “Keep Kids Away from Tractors,” which states that it is never okay for a child younger than 12 years to be on a tractor. The earliest a child should be on a tractor is when he or she is old enough to take and pass tractor safety educational classes, according to the network. And a child should never be an extra rider.

The campaign has upset some parents and farm owners. Riding a tractor with parents, or grandparents, is considered a childhood tradition in many rural areas. During the past year, however, a number of fatal, high-profile incidents have underscored the danger of allowing children -- some just toddlers -- to ride on a lap, sit on a fender, or stand on the axle. In an eye-blink a child can fall in the path of a tire, mower or other implement. The mere presence of a child is a distraction to the adult operating the tractor.

And a cab is no guarantee of safety. Some of the most traumatic incidents have occurred when a child has fallen out of a cab. Closed cab doors can pop open when the tractor hits a rut or rock, or when a child reaches out to steady himself and inadvertently hits the door handle. A 5-year-old Kansas girl fell to her death in a moving combine header when window glass shattered.

The Childhood Agricultural Safety Network is a coalition of more than 50 health, safety and youth organizations who advocate for child safety on the farm. The network urges individuals and groups to incorporate its resources in their safety initiatives. An archived webinar, posters, radio ads and more information can be found at www.childagsafety.org.

The message may be controversial and blunt, but the lives it saves will be worth it. Remember -- “It’s easier to bury a tradition than a child.”

For questions or for more information on the campaign, contact Marsha Salzwedel at salzwedel.marsha@mcrf.mfldclin.edu.  

ROPS Rebate Program: A tractor rollbar, known as a Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS), is 99 percent effective in saving the life of a belted-in operator in the event of an overturn. Several states (New York, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts) have rebate programs to help offset the cost of retrofitting tractor rollbars. For information go to https://www.nycamhoutreach.com/ropsr4u/.