Helen O’Callaghan says the dangers on farms can be underestimated.
With summer approaching, we’ll see more children outdoors on farms, whether farm-dwelling or visiting children. For the latter especially — and their parents — a farm is exciting, a place of discovery. But sometimes dangers are underestimated.
In the past 10 years, there were 22 fatal accidents involving children on Irish farms. Thirty-six per cent were killed by tractors; 32% by other farm machinery.
“This stands out as the biggie in terms of farm fatalities involving children,” says Health and Safety Authority (HSA) inspector John Kennedy.
“Mostly, these children were run over or crushed by tractors or struck by a farm vehicle. People forget the child is completely exposed and — more often than not — can’t be seen by the operator of large machinery. Children can dash anywhere.
It can be difficult for the driver to keep track of everything,” says Kennedy, who recalls an anecdote shared by a farm contractor with a policy of not carrying children on tractors.
“The parents on one farm insisted — because the children had a week off school — that he’d carry them around on the tractor for the day. But children can fall out. And very often the operator has to get out of the tractor to check something — a child might then touch the controls.”
While Britain and Northern Ireland have a regulation stipulating children must be 13 before they get into a tractor, in the Republic the HSA requirement is that children under seven must not be carried in a tractor .
Eighteen percent of the 22 child fatalities were due to drowning — such as falling into rain water tanks or slurry lagoons — and 14% caused by falls.
“We don’t want to stop children getting a love of the farm. But it needs to be managed, measured and supervised,” says Kennedy.
Visitors with children should know farms are busy places, that farmers on working farms are rushing from one task to another. Parents — whether farmers or not — may assume a certain safety awareness in children. “Emphasising something once isn’t enough — it may need constant reminders.”
Kennedy says there’s often a gap between intention and action. “Research shows farmers have every intention of doing the right thing but they often don’t do it — they mean to put a safety guard on machinery or mend the broken corner of fencing around the slurry lagoon but they don’t get around to it.”
It’s important to remember that children ‘do as I do, not as I say’ — if they see safety-conscious adults around them, they’re likely to be so too.
* Parents need to coach children about farm dangers.
* Children under seven shouldn’t ride on a tractor.
* Keep children away from dangerous areas — moving vehicles or herds.
* Ensure a safe, secure play area adjacent to dwelling house.
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