July 18, 2016

Farms – places of work not playgrounds

The six-week school summer holidays can be a source of joy for children and frustration for parents. But 100 years ago, there was no danger of anyone getting bored or struggling to find childcare.

School term times, including the long summer break, were developed to coincide with the agricultural calendar. During the summer months, children were needed to work the land, harvest fruit and perform other menial duties.

They were (of course) of no use to their parents and landowners sitting in a classroom with their head in a book!

Thankfully, the days of child labour are long gone.

But although we don’t officially put our children to work on the land any more, farms still provide a wonderfully enticing location for young people with just Netflix and Nintendo for company and six weeks of no lessons.

The need for rigorous farm safety management

Although times may have changed harvest season hasn’t, and long summer days (remember those?!) are still spent out in the fields gathering crops.

However, these days harvesting is done by increasingly bigger and more technical machinery.

A tragically high number of children and young people have died or been injured on farms in the last ten years, so it’s incredibly important that as a farm or land owner, you do everything you can to prevent accidents.

Agriculture has one of the highest fatal injury rates of any industry in Great Britain.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, in the last ten years:

  • 45 children and young people have died and more than 400 seriously injured on farms. The main causes of fatalities were tractors, machinery and drowning.
  • Most children killed by accidents on a farm are family members of the farmer.

These figures are startling; even one fatality or injury is too many.

Farms are homes as well as a place of work, creating a high-risk environment within the close proximity of the children and young people who live there and the friends who visit.

And it’s not just the farmer who’s responsible for ensuring the safety of children on a farm: every employer, employee and contractor has an obligation to ensure the safety of ALL children, including curious trespassers.

Complying with the law around safety on farm sites

The HSE enforces the law relating to child safety and will consider proceedings against anyone found breaking it including parents and relatives.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require you to assess the risks to the health and safety of young people at work and take measures to protect them.

You should take into account:

  • The young workers’ lack of experience.
  • Their limited awareness of risks.
  • Their level of physical and mental maturity.

And you must also ensure they are given, or already have, appropriate information, instruction, supervision and training. If employing a child of compulsory school age the employer must inform the child’s parents of the findings of the risk assessment.

Finally, the Prevention of Accidents to Children Regulations 1998 stipulate any child under the age of 13 cannot drive a tractor or other agricultural vehicle including all-terrain vehicles such as quad bikes.

What you can do as a farmer or landowner to keep children safe

There’s a lot you can do to prevent accidents:

Farmyard and outbuildings

  • Keep the farmyard clean and tidy.
  • Cover any pits, including slurry and grain, to prevent access.
  • Make sure all guards and covers are in place for conveyors, augers and other electrical equipment.
  • Stack all materials, including bales, to prevent them from falling over, and maintain the safety of the stack.
  • Keep all ladders secure to prevent unauthorised use.
  • Keep all stores including chemical stores locked when not in use.
  • Ensure all chemicals and pesticides are correctly labelled and locked away.
  • Keep guns and ammunition in a locked cabinet.
  • Prevent access to any building maintenance work.

Machinery and vehicles

  • Inform all drivers children may be present.
  • Use the SAFE STOP procedure when leaving a vehicle unattended: apply the parking brake, stop the engine, remove the key and lock the vehicle.
  • Ensure all guards are in place to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery.
  • Every PTO shaft must be fully enclosed. Consider implementing speed limits and if possible traffic routes through the farm yard.
  • Do not allow children under 13 to operate farm machinery.

Livestock

  • Keep children away from livestock or allow contact only when directly supervised.
  • Never allow children to enter any pen containing a bull, boar, ram or stallion.
  • Remember female livestock with young can be aggressive.
  • Animals can also carry diseases or organisms that can be passed onto humans and cause illness. Educate children about good hygiene, make sure they wash their hands after contact with livestock and keep any cuts covered.
  • Make sure all pens are in good repair and secure.

Supervision and instruction

  • Discuss the dangers of the farm with any child who lives at or visits the farm.
  • Highlight any forbidden areas and activities.
  • Encourage them to play in a safe area away from any work activities.
  • Make sure employees are aware they can stop work and ask children to move away to a safe area.
  • Display clear warning signs. The law relating to trespass is enforced by the police, so if you have issues with trespass you may wish to speak to your local community officer. To try and deter trespass provide suitably robust fences and gates and warning signs.
    And if children do trespass: tell them to leave, and speak to their parents or the police if it is a frequent occurrence.

If you require any advice and guidance to help you establish whether your business is fully legally compliant in providing and maintaining a safe place of work or to check your risk assessments are suitable and sufficient, call the Moorepay team 0845 184 4615.

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About the author

Donna Buckle

She has eight years' experience in the field of environmental health, having previously worked in the charitable sector as Health & Safety Lead and Depot Manager before joining the team as a Consultant in 2015. Donna is NEBOSH-qualified and a University of Reading graduate.