Farm safety, including tractor and machinery safety, is of utmost importance especially when it comes to youth being involved on the farm. Tractor safety certification programs are offered around the state to not only provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to operate safely, but also fulfill the state and federal requirements for youth to operate machinery on farms. I was able to stop out during one of these programs that was held at the Stoughton Fairgrounds to learn more about the courses and why they are so important. Cheryl Skjolaas of the UW Center for Agricultural Safety and Health shared details about tractor safety certification and how students can benefit from the programs.
Tractor safety certification programs in the state of Wisconsin date back to the 1960’s, as there continued to be an elevated number of machinery related incidents and injuries for both adults and youth. It was realized that there were really no programs at the time to train people how to be safe in this setting other than just learning at home from family. Today’s programs are modeled around the original curriculum from 4-H and FFA youth programs, and has expanded to include other general farm safety topics as well.
Tractor safety certifications can be earned by youth under 16 to operate on the farm and roadways. In the state of Wisconsin, if a youth wants to operate and tractor on public roadways and their parent’s farm, they are required to get a state certification and can earn that certification starting at age 12. Federal requirements say that if a student wants to operate tractors and machinery on farm and on roadways through a job on another farm, they must be at least 14 years of age and earn the safety certification. The students participate in a 24 total hour course that includes both classroom instruction and practical driving portions.
The state has seen increased demand in the recent past, seeing that there is a very high shortage of labor on farms. Farmers are looking to those 14 and 15 year old students to help fill that gap. In order to meet demand, Dane county is piloting an online course to fulfill the classroom portion of the certification and then bring the students together for the driving portion. The course I was able to attend had 20 youth participating from Dane, Rock, Walworth, Jefferson and Dodge counties. Skjolaas said that they are able to serve a wider area with the online portion.
As Skjolaas reminds however, the certification course is just the start. Continual training on the farm and attention to detail can help students become more advanced and expand their abilities to help on the farm. Things as simple as being dressed appropriately and mounting and dismounting a tractor safely, can be easily forgotten, but are so important. With much support from local implement dealers, 4-H and FFA programs, Farm Bureau members and extension staff, Skjolass says “whatever we do, we still believe that everyone should be alive at the end of that workday.”
After catching up with Cheryl Skjolaas, I was also able to visit with some participants in the program and a parent as well. Trent Voisin, 15 year old of Elkhorn and Jack Boston, 14 year old of Milton were just two of the 20 participants that day, and they shared what they learned and how they could use that knowledge back on the farm. Voisin currently works on two different dairy farms, but wants to be able to continue to help more. Getting this certification can allow him to help operate machinery and take on more tasks around the farm. Boston shared that his family has always been involved in agriculture and learning more tractor safety will help him to keep running an efficient operation and share this information with his younger brother. Chris Boston, Jack’s dad, also shared that from a parent’s perspective, he is always concerned about his son’s safety and wants to make sure that whether it’s on the road or in the field, he is prepared for anything that might happen.