John Shutske, Ag Safety Specialist
Millions of people visit county and state fairs, farm festivals, and “agritourism” destinations every summer. Visiting a petting zoo, spending a day at the fair to check out the grand champion steer, or a taking a late summer walk through a corn maze or pumpkin patch provides opportunities for people to connect with people and places where their food is produced.
“Agritourism attractions are increasing in popularity,” said John Shutske, University of Wisconsin-Extension bio systems specialist at UW-Madison. “Almost 70 million people visit farms each year and at least 40 percent of these visitors are children. Along with the fun aspects of these venues, there are also unique and often unseen hazards. During a 16-year period, 200 multi-person infectious disease outbreaks involving animals in public settings were reported to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and an estimated 3,700 children are injured while visiting farms every year.”
The increase in attendance at these venues has also brought an increase of interest in how to keep agritourism visitors safe and prevent injuries and illnesses that can occur at farms and festivals that feature potentially dangerous activities. Agritourism businesses, which are often family farming operations, are extremely interested in protecting their visitors; and insurance companies and others need to pay close attention.
Teams of safety and health experts working closely with advisors from the agriculture industry have produced resources for agritourism owners, including the Agritourism Safety website developed by a team facilitated by the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety (http://safeagritourism.org/).
Another resource, developed by the CDC with groups like the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, is aimed at preventing illness among fair, petting zoo, and livestock/dairy show visitors where visitor contact with animals is expected. This resource (https://www.cdc.gov/features/animalexhibits/index.html) provides detailed recommendations that address the prevalence of infectious bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing agents.
Some key recommendations from these sources for visitors and those who operate these venues and facilities include:
- All children need close supervision – remember that young children are very curious and active. Pre-teen kids often don’t have a strong appreciation for safety and might take chances and risks that could have terrible consequences.
- Read and FOLLOW all posted warning signs and written or verbal instructions.
- Adults and youth should stay away from large animals such as horses, cattle or pigs: you can be bitten, kicked, stepped on, or rammed. If a 1,500 pound animal decides you’re in its way, resulting injuries can be catastrophic.
- Stay behind all barriers and NEVER approach moving equipment – belts, chains, gears, and other rotating parts can lead to severe injury including amputations or even death.
- Never ride on or allow a child to ride on a tractor or other machine unless there is a specific, designated seat made for such purposes (most extra seats on newer farm tractors are designed to train new operators, and they are NOT designed for children)
- ALWAYS wash your hands thoroughly during and after a farm visit – Use soap, warm water, and paper towels. Never eat unless your hands are thoroughly washed. Hand sanitizers are not discouraged, but, they are NOT a replacement for good handwashing.
For Owners, Managers, or Supervisors:
- Take the time to educate yourself and all workers (including volunteers). To make a difference, you must take action; awareness alone is not enough. Many great resources are now available including: http://safeagritourism.org/
- Realize all farms, fairs, shows, and expos are different – identify the types of potential hazards and activities that your visitors will participate in – conduct “safety walkthroughs” and use the checklists to identify all hazards.
- Once you’ve identified hazards, develop an action plan; actions can include making specific changes (like re-routing a hayride so that you are not crossing a public highway or hiring extra employees to make sure nobody gets lost in a corn maze).
- Always err on the side of “over communicating” with your visitors. People who did not grow up around farm machines, animals, and other hazards may not appreciate the risks they are exposed to. Ensure that ALL activities are carefully supervised by staff or trained volunteers.
- The websites cited earlier have excellent information will help agritourism businesses talk with their insurer, as well as comply with local and state regulations, safety codes and standards including food safety.