WITH children off school for several weeks now because of the Covid-19 restrictions, and the distinct possibility that they may not be returning there before the summer holidays, the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) has issued a warning to farm families to be extra-conscious about safety in order to avoid any possible increase in child fatalities on farms.
Because farms are both homes and workplaces, it is difficult to separate the two in children’s eyes, so they need constant reminding and guidance from responsible adults to keep them safe. Farms are regularly cited in statistics as the most dangerous of workplaces – more so even than construction sites – and the most vulnerable people are young children and older adults.
Spring coming into summer is one of the busiest times of year outdoors on Irish farms with a lot of farm machinery in use, thereby increasing the danger to children looking to amuse themselves on farms while off school.
While they may be well-versed about the risks, the children who die in farm accidents tend to come from farm families, so there is no room for any risk-taking.
The following set of guidelines from the HSA, outlining the key risks to child safety, are worth noting and repeating:
• No safe play area: Having such an area is strongly recommended by the HSA for children under five years of age.
• Lack of supervision: Children require supervision at all times.
• Children driving or operating farm machinery: Children under 16 years of age should not operate self-propelled machinery, power-driven machinery with cutting, splitting or crushing mechanisms. Using chemicals should also be considered off limits. Keys should be removed from vehicles and controls left in neutral. Lower any loaders to the ground and apply the handbrake.
• Risks posed by animals: Animals need not be dangerous to pose a danger to children; sheer size can cause serious injury from crushing. Veterinary medicine not securely stored may also cause death. Children should be trained to always wash their hands after being with animals or pets.
• Stacks of bales: Children should be discouraged from using bales of any description for playing. It is very easy to fall from stacked bales resulting in serious injury or fall between them leading to suffocation. Make sure there is no evidence of children burrowing under stacked bales. Keep matches in a safe place.
• Chemicals: Children under 16 should never handle chemicals. Always keep them in their correct containers and securely stored.
• Drowning – water and slurry: Slurry pits and lagoons should be safely secured. Children should never be in the vicinity during slurry agitation or spreading. Sheep dips and water tanks should be kept covered when not in use.
• Ladders: Store ladders flat on the ground or on wall brackets to prevent children climbing.
• Carrying passengers on farm machinery: Be very aware that children can interfere with controls, if left alone in a tractor cab. Many children have been killed falling from the door or rear window of tractors. There is also the possibility of being distracted when doing intricate jobs which is not taken into consideration.
• Contractors should always be made aware of the presence of children.
Remember, farms are not playgrounds.