A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Yard work and kids: Keep it safe with these guidelines

Kids / Yard Chores / Safety in Garden

Kids help outside all the time with yard work, but how do you know they are safe? Use these guidelines.

Children often help outside with yard work. Whether it is mowing the yard or helping in the garden, there are specific situations that are not safe for children depending on their age and maturity.

Marsha Salzwedel, M.S., project manager for the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety at Marshfield Clinic Health System, works with parents to help them assess whether a situation is safe for their children. She helped develop guidelines for specific yard word practices children may perform.

“All of these guidelines help parents assess a child’s or teen’s physical and mental readiness to do these jobs, and they provide information on supervision, hazards and protective strategies,” Salzwedel said.

Generally, children must do these things to perform outside jobs safely:

  • Do not wear loose clothing or clothes with strings. Children should tie back long hair.
  • Wear weather appropriate clothing for hot or cold weather. A sun-safe hat should be worn if possible.
  • Stay aware of changing weather conditions.
  • Know what to do in the event of an emergency.
  • Maintain a two-way communication link.

As an adult, you should provide a 10-minute break every hour, and more frequently for younger children. Have drinking water available at all times.

Proper training also is important and you should supervise children until they demonstrate mastery of the task.

“Even after a child has mastered a task, you should still check on them frequently. How frequently depends on the age of the child, type of job and worksite hazards,” Salzwedel said.

Consider safety while gardening

Gardening may seem like a relatively safe project for children, but there are still important guidelines that can help keep children safe.

Besides the general guidelines for outdoor work, youth should be able to do or have these things in order to safely perform composting, hand weeding and hand harvesting tasks:

  • Bend and lift using the proper techniques.
  • Limit weight of objects carried to less than 25 percent of their body weight.
  • Carry the load the required distance without straining.
  • Proper training and coordination needed to manipulate the tools.
  • Attention span long enough to complete work.
  • Wear non-skid shoes, gloves and adequate sun protection.

“Most gardening tasks can start at age seven, but this age requires constant supervision and limiting the work to 15 minutes,” Salzwedel said. “More sophisticated jobs like picking fruit from a ladder should be reserved for teens age 16 or older.”

View the guidelines below for more information.

Operating a lawn mower

A lawn mower is a common tool youth use when doing yard work. It can also be unsafe if your child is not ready to operate this piece of equipment.

Beside the general guidelines for outdoor work, youth should be able to do or have these things in order to mow lawn safely:

  • Check and clear area of debris in path of mower.
  • Stay focused on task for up to 50 minutes.
  • Recognize a hazard, problem solve and respond appropriately.
  • Reach and operate controls when standing behind a push mower or sitting on a riding mower.
  • Mature enough to consistently do what is expected.
  • Wear non-skid shoes, hearing protection and eye protection.

“As an adult, it is your responsibility to make sure the mower operates correctly. This includes providing proper training and having youth call an adult if the mower malfunctions,” Salzwedel said.

When supervising children that are mowing, Salzwedel recommends:

  • 12-13 years: Constant supervision progressing to periodic supervision. A child this age should not operate a riding lawn mower.
  • 14-15 years: Intermittent supervision progressing to periodic supervision.
  • 16 years or older: Periodic supervision.

View the guideline below for more information.

Operating an ATV or UTV

There may be many reasons your child would operate an ATV or UTV including working on the yard or just having fun. However, Salzwedel knows all too well that children on an ATV or UTV are a huge safety issue.

Besides the general guidelines for outdoor work, youth should be able to do or have these things in order to operate an ATV or UTV safely:

  • Reach and operate controls while wearing seatbelt (UTV) or while seated at the rear of the seat (ATV).
  • Reach the ROPS handhold on UTV while seated wearing seatbelt.
  • Push ATV off if pinned underneath.
  • Recognize a hazard, problem solve and respond appropriately.
  • Be mature enough to consistently do what is expected.
  • Think through actions and consequences before acting.
  • Wear a helmet with eye protection, non-skid shoes and gloves.

Before youth drive the ATV or UTV, you should ensure the vehicle is mechanically sound with safety features in place. You also should verify that the ATV model meets the recommendations for rider fit.

The youth work guidelines do not recommend operating an ATV or UTV before the age of 16 and even after that age, continuous supervision progressing to periodic is recommended.

View the guidelines below for more information.

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