The reprehensible few
Farming friends, it’s time to talk about child safety. Now, I understand that many of you are sick of the media pontification on this issue. It is important to acknowledge that most of us are already conscious of the dangers that a busy farm poses, especially to small children; and that we do everything in our power to protect our families from moving machinery, livestock and other hazards. Unfortunately, though, there will always be those few who make reckless decisions, who forget about the danger, don't see it, or ignore it for a variety of reasons. This problem doesn't seem to be going away. Worse still, over the last couple of years we have seen a spike in social media videos depicting extremely dangerous and, frankly, idiotic behaviour on Irish farms. It is bad enough to put ourselves needlessly into harm’s way for 5 seconds of fame; but to put children and teenagers in danger for the sake of a few views on Youtube or Facebook is beyond reprehensible.
Summer is always the most dangerous time on Irish farms. This is especially true for children. The end of the school year usually coincides with the start of the hay and silage season. Now, for whatever reason, children who grow up on farms are endlessly fascinated with the whole process from mowing to baling to drawing. They are attracted to the moving machinery like flies to a light. When we were children, my brothers and I used to sit on the yard wall next to our big meadow to watch the mowing and baling. On occasion, we would venture into the field despite our father’s warnings. Fortunately for us, the neighbour who did our baling refused to work if there were children nearby. He had a sharp eye and would turn off the tractor as soon as we set foot in the field.
Not all of us are as observant or patient as our neighbour was – I know I am not. Most of the time, we are in a hurry to get the job done and this can lead to neglect of normal safety standards. There is a common misconception among the general population that the majority of farm accidents are the result of bravado or deliberate recklessness. But the truth is that farms are particularly dangerous because farming is one of the busiest professions in the world. Many of us find ourselves cutting corners with safety measures because we are thinking about the next job that needs to be done before night falls or the rain starts.
So that’s why, as summer finally settles over Irish farms, it is useful for all of us with young children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, to make a child safety plan for the coming months. In consultation with HSA guidelines, we here at Agridirect.ie have put together a guide that should help you to keep the next generation of farmers safe and well.
A Guide to Good Child Safety
First of all, it is crucial that we provide a safe and secure area for children to play in while farm machinery is operating in nearby fields. This area should be in full view of the dwelling house, so that a responsible adult can observe children at all times. Obviously, this also necessitates that at least one adult remains in or around the house while farm work is ongoing. If it is not possible for either parent to stay in the house, please contact a trustworthy neighbour, relative or friend and ask them to do so.
If children are allowed beyond the safety of the play area, they must be supervised by an adult. Keep them away from heights, where they may wish to climb for a better view of moving machinery. If kids are allowed to walk on the farm under supervision, ensure that wells, water tanks and – especially – slurry tanks are fenced off and inaccessible for even the bravest little adventurer. Do not allow a child to go anywhere near dangerous livestock, particularly adult male animals and mothers with young offspring.
If you are hiring a contractor to do machine-operated work on the farm, make sure that he or she is aware that there are small children in the vicinity. Remember that contractors come to do a particular job. They are focussed on that and may not be thinking about the additional safety measures that they need to take. It is your responsibility to inform them.
Children and tractors
Tractors are by far the leading cause of child deaths on Irish farms. 76% of child farm deaths in the last 10 years were tractor-related, so it is essential that we exercise an excess of caution here. First of all – and this needs to be stressed as often as possible – do not, under any circumstances, allow children younger than 14 to operate a tractor, or even to sit in the cab on their own. If you take them in the cab with you, you must ensure that the tractor is fitted with a passenger seat and seatbelt. You should never allow children younger than 7 to ride in the tractor alongside you. To do so is illegal.
Children older than 14 are allowed to operate tractors, but strict legal requirements apply. If you are allowing older teenagers to operate machinery, they must have completed a training course run by a qualified instructor. You, the adult, must be satisfied that they know how to manage the controls. You need to be certain that the tractor is running well and that all controls, and especially PTO controls, are clearly marked. Do not leave the field where adolescents are driving. Make sure, too, that youngsters are not operating a tractor in fields full of hazardous obstacles such as rocks, slopes, rivers and lakes. Guiding a tractor in such dangerous situations requires an experienced hand.
Thanks for Reading
Because we work with them every day, it is easy to become complacent about the extreme dangers present on our farms. But we must remember that children do not have our life experience to draw on. They have little awareness of risk, and will often wander into danger unwittingly. It is our duty as farm managers, and as parents and guardians, to make sure that we keep them, and ourselves, safe at all times.
So, farmers, let’s not take it for granted this summer. Let's do what we can to reduce on-farm tragedies. Let’s get child safety right!