"Finding the right age for children to operate tractors on their own has been an age-old question on farms since tractors were invented. But according to a new study, most kids between the ages of 13 to 17 are not strong enough to operate the controls on 40 different models of tractors commonly used on American farms. Barbara Marlenga, Ph.D. of the National Children's Center at Marshfield Clinic, says that finding raises serious questions that all people should stop and think about.
"The purpose of this study was to estimate the activation forces required to operate tractors in common use and compare them with existing estimates of physical strength for children of varying ages and with recommended ergonomic force limits for repeatedly engaging controls," Marlenga notes. "Activation forces for steering, brakes and clutch were measured on each tractor."
Marlenga says farm tractors account for the majority of fatal injuries to adolescents working in agriculture and therefore remain a leading occupational priority. The question of whether these injuries occur because adolescents are assigned tractor jobs beyond their physical capabilities has not been answered, Dr. Marlenga said.
The study provides objective evidence that could assist in establishment of evidence based minimum-age recommendations for children and tractor operation. A strength of the study is that efforts were made to measure the forces required to operate tractor controls in real-life field settings, thus enhancing the generalisability of the study findings. In addition, the tractor force data were collected as part of a larger set of anthropomorphic variables that also included reach-distances and fields-ofvision.
Collectively, these three analyses should provide a more comprehensive picture of the ability of children of varying physical abilities to effectively operate tractors in common use in the U.S., and the factors that impinge upon their safety, than has previously been available.
The study is titled 'Forces required to operate controls on farm tractors: Implications for young operators,' appeared in the July 2008 issue of Ergonomics." (Continued via Wisconsin Ag Connection) [Ergonomics Resources]