Words matter - shifting language for farm safety

Mar 19, 2024

By farms.com

In the world of farm safety, the words we choose carry weight far beyond their definitions. Barbara Lee, Ph.D., a pioneer in childhood agricultural injury prevention, is challenging the traditional language of incident reporting, advocating for a significant shift in perspective that could potentially save lives.  

"An ‘accident’ suggests that the situation could not have been anticipated or prevented,” Lee explains, challenging the narrative that frames these events as unexpected misfortunes.   

Instead, Lee proposes the use of precise terminology—such as "incident," "crash," "explosion," or "fall"—to accurately describe what happened, thereby encouraging a proactive approach to safety and prevention.  

Lee's insights, drawn from nearly four decades of dedicated research, underscore a critical gap in how we communicate about child injuries on farms. The current conversation, often spoiled by the word "accident," minimizes the potential for detailed examination and improvement of the conditions leading to these incidents.   

In her work with the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, Lee has observed a persistent decline in serious injuries and deaths among children on farms.  She notes a delay in adopting language that aligns with an emphasis on prevention seen in other industries. 

The call for change is backed by data: an analysis of public news reports over seven years revealed a significant reliance on the term "accident" when describing incidents involving youth.   

This choice of language, Lee suggests, may stem from an intent to soften the impact on grieving families but ultimately serves to deter from addressing the underlying safety issues.  

The auto safety field's abandonment of "accident" in favor of terms like "crash" has led to enhanced safety measures and public awareness.  

Lee envisions a similar transformation within agricultural settings, where a shift in language can lead to heightened safety protocols and a safer environment for children.  

"Child farm injuries and deaths are never ‘accidents,’" Lee asserts, highlighting a movement towards a culture of safety that prioritizes clear, actionable language to prevent future tragedies.   

This perspective is not only a call to action for those within the agricultural community but also for media outlets and the public at large to reconsider the impact of their words on safety and prevention efforts.  

As we move forward, embracing precise and accurate descriptions of farm incidents involving children can serve as a cornerstone for effective injury prevention strategies, ensuring a safer future for the youngest members of the agricultural community. 

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