by Courtney Llewellyn
Agritourism is anything that brings people to your farm. The most common types of activities are farm markets, tours and educational activities, hay rides/sleigh rides, pumpkin patches, U-pick, play areas, food service, corn mazes, farm festivals, petting zoos and weddings/events. Those activities can bring a very diverse group of visitors to your operation, and to protect yourself and others, you need to plan ahead.
Marsha Salzwedel, project scientist with the National Farm Medicine Center, said planning for safety is an important part of any agritourism venture.
“Why are visitors a safety issue?” she asked. “They are unfamiliar with agriculture. They’re looking for a ‘babysitter.’ They’re easily distracted. They think the rules don’t apply to them. And many feel that common sense is dead.”
Farmers should be concerned about all that because of liability, safety and quality issues. Safety matters because agriculture is America’s most dangerous occupation – and offers the only worksite in the U.S. where youth of any age can be present. Per the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Safety and Health, a youth dies in an ag-related incident about every three days. Every day, about 33 youth are injured in ag-related incidents. The number of ag-related injuries among youth ages 10 – 19 is increasing. And 60% of ag-related fatalities happen to youth who are not working.
“About 12,000 children are injured each year on farms, and 40% of injured children are visiting,” Salzwedel noted. “An injury can, and often does, result in damages to the farm and impacts insurance. Owners/operators must ensure the safety of guests.”
Laws relating to agritourism vary from state to state, so it’s critical to check with your lawyer about what you can do and how you can do it safely. Anyone welcoming visitors to their farm needs to think about insurance, agritourism liability laws, activities and risks, safety strategies and documentation (of all of the safety measures you take – this is important if you ever need to go to a court of law).
The annual cost of occupational injuries in agriculture is $8.3 billion in medical costs and lost productivity. The cost of youth deaths is $420 million per year. “These costs could be devastating to an independent farm,” Salzwedel said. “Good safety pays $4 to $6 for every $1 invested.”
And investment is key. Salzwedel said you’re not protected by laws just because you posted a sign. Agritourism laws typically protect against the inherent risks of agritourism activities (minor injuries, like bee stings and twisted ankles from uneven ground, for example) and don’t protect against willful or wanton disregard for the safety of participants or something that intentionally injures participants. Part of doing your due diligence is discovering dangers to address. You need to inspect everything regularly.
Agritourism operators need to exercise ordinary care (by following best practices), discover dangers (by inspecting for hazards) and prevent known dangers (by fixing hazards and/or identifying safety issues with signs).
If you’re not sure exactly what you should be looking for, complete a walkthrough of your enterprise with a lawyer, an insurance agent or someone from the National Farm Medicine Center. A walkthrough means actually walking through the farm or looking through a series of pictures to identify hazards and/or safety issues or determine if safety items are lacking. A walkthrough teaches you how to identify safety issues by showing you what to look for and providing information about safety guidelines and recommendations. Examples are available at safeagritourism.org.
As stated above, those welcoming visitors to their farms should also document everything – from inspections (with checklists) to policies and procedures, which need to be written, dated and reviewed. All employees need to be educated/trained. Document all the safety strategies put in place as well, such as signage, and document all the fixes that you performed to correct issues.
“Remember, if it’s not documented, it’s not done!” Salzwedel said.