As North Carolina teenagers end their summer jobs and return to school, their parents may have breathed a sigh of relief that their summers ended without a workplace injury. However, not all workplaces are created equal–teenagers are four times more likely to die in an accident on a farm than they are in any other workplace.

Agricultural work continues to be one of the most dangerous lines of work in the country. And operating farm equipment is one of the most common reasons teenagers are hurt on the job and it is the leading cause of workplace death. Statistics as far back as the 1990s show that around two dozen children die in tractor accidents a year, but this number could be incorrect as the lack of a central database makes it hard to find a precise figure.

According to a study published in 1999, 12-year-olds can do simple work on tractors, power equipment can be operated by 14-year-olds and 16-year-olds can operate tractors on public roads. A new study will hopefully shed some light on the previous research and ultimately make it safer for children operating farm equipment.

Eighty-eight farm children between the ages of 10 and 17 will participate in the upcoming study, getting on a commonly used tractor simulator to take a virtual drive while life-like images of the road are projected around the tractor. They’ll drive around traffic, merge, pass cars and learn to navigate people, cars and buildings. Ten adults will perform the same tasks. Their every move will be recorded by software and compared with one another to see if there are any differences in the children’s performance.

If successful, the study could change national guidelines on when children can safely operate farm machinery, leading to a decrease in workplace injuries. In the meantime, besides practicing safety in the workplace, injured workers should avail their right to file a workers’ compensation claim to recover compensation to cover their lost wages and medical costs after a workplace accident.

Source: KOAA, “Iowa study aimed at making tractors safer for kids,” Garrett Boyd, Sept. 5, 2012