Most farms in the South West are family farms and so many have children on site.
Very sadly, the vast majority of the injuries and fatalities that occur on farms every year are to farmers’ family members. Although it is widely believed that farm children grow up knowing the risks associated with living on a farm, this is simply not always the case. Some straightforward precautionary steps can help keep children safe on the farm and avoid the risk of a heartbreaking accident.
Other members of the public may also be at risk, for instance when crossing farms using public rights of way through fields containing livestock, as well as during open farm days and other farm visits.
It is illegal and unsafe for a child under 13 to ride in the cab of an agricultural vehicle. They are in danger of falling from the vehicle and can distract the operator or interfere with the vehicle’s operation by accidentally operating controls. Children under 13 may not drive or ride on tractors or any self-propelled machine used in agriculture.
Children aged 13 or above may drive agricultural vehicles but before doing so should attend a training course run by a competent person and should meet the conditions set out in the HSE publication ‘Preventing accidents to children on farms.
If a child is under16, they must not drive, operate or help to operate machines such as towed or self-propelled harvesters and powered cultivators. You should familiarise yourself with the age limits and guidelines for the various types of machinery on your farm before allowing any child or young person to ride on them, operate them or assist in their operation in any way.
When children are carried on trailers, ensure that the trailer is in good condition with all safety devices working, guard rails are fitted, seats are provided and secured to the trailer, there are safe mounting and dismounting arrangements and that children are supervised by a responsible adult who has a means of contacting the driver.
Allow children over 13 to ride only on age-appropriate all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), adhering to manufacturers’ age recommendations and all other reasonable safety precautions.
Animals do not need to be aggressive to pose a threat to children. Even ‘playful’ farm animals can kill or severely injure a child, and any animal may carry a disease that could be passed to humans. So do ensure that children cannot enter any yard or pen occupied by potentially dangerous animals. Do not allow children to look after animals or poultry without competent supervision.
What’s more, it is vital that children are not allowed to touch any veterinary medicines and application equipment, as these can cause injury and ill health. Lock away any such items when not in use.
Children are naturally curious and may see a farm as an exciting place to explore. Make sure that children cannot access dangerous areas such as roofs and ledges, chemical stores, slurry pits, reservoirs, sheep dips, grain intake pits and grain bins, building maintenance works, or places where tools or machinery are stored. Try to deter access by using fencing, sheeted gates, grids or solid covers that will not give way if children stray onto them.
Children may be tempted to climb or play on wheels, gates, stacks of hay or straw or in grain bins but all these have the ability to injure or kill. Check that gates are properly erected and will not topple, store tractor wheels flat or firmly secure upright, store ladders safely and ensure that children cannot gain access to grain bins. Keep children away from areas where vehicles or machinery are in use and make sure that operators know that they should stop work if children stray into their vicinity until the children are removed to a safe area.
If children trespass on your farm, tell them to leave. If they refuse, stop work and call their parents or the police. Provide suitable gates, fences and warning signs to deter access to the farm by children.
Decide which areas you want members of the public to have access to, and make sure access to non-public areas is prevented by suitable fencing and warning signs. Identify suitable contact areas where children and members of the public may feed or pet animals. Regularly clean and disinfect contact areas and make sure that washing facilities are available and are used by visitors when leaving the area. Select animals for contact carefully. Public access should not be allowed to sick, stressed or injured animals and no access should be allowed to the pens where animals are housed.
Try to make sure that visitor routes are not routes used regularly by stock or farm animals. If this is not possible, regularly clear or clean routes and provide duckboards to prevent contamination of footwear. If you intend to allow public access to fields that have been used for grazing or keeping stock, keep farm animals off the fields during use and for at least the previous three weeks, remove any visible droppings, mow the grass, keeping it short, and remove the clippings.