Last year, there were 30 deaths due to farm accidents in Ireland.

Out of that 30 fatalities, four of them were children aged 13 or younger. Nobody wants to see the likes of this again.

Farms are a dangerous environment for children and the dangers will increase as the year progresses.

Farmyards should be a ‘no go’ area for children unless they are accompanied by an adult in a safe manner.

Most farm accidents involving children are avoidable through proper supervision. Of the estimated 2,500 people treated in hospitals in 2014 for injuries received in farm accidents, about 225 of them were children or young persons.

With the summer in sight, the silage harvesting season starting in late May, reseeding, spraying and crop harvesting all to come, the risk to children’s safety is greatly increased as these machinery operations coincides with the summer holidays.

During school holidays, children in rural areas are more likely to be present on farms and thus face a number of potential dangers.

Children are naturally curious and inquisitive. They like to examine and play around tractors and farm machinery that is new to them.

Farms are full of heavy machinery (tractors, slurry tankers etc.); so ensuring that children are supervised by parents and are kept out of harm’s way is crucial.

Providing a secure, safe play area where young children can play and be seen at all times is hugely important. A farmyard can seem like a playground to a child’s eyes, but it is a highly dangerous playground.

Tractors and machinery are one of the leading causes of accidents on farms and parents need to make sure children are kept safe from this hazard and the many others that exist.

The spring and summer period is a particularly dangerous time on farms and adults need to be constantly vigilant and make sure children are supervised while making children aware of any danger/risk present.

Parent’s attitude towards farm safety has a huge bearing on a child’s perception of any danger/risk. Warning children of dangers in a positive way, while controlling children’s exposure to the dangers is the best approach.

A parent’s supervision is necessary to securing childhood safety while letting children do tasks appropriate for the child’s age and capacity is a positive part of the growing up process.

The key is for the parent to limit a child’s exposure to the danger while highlighting the danger to the child.

Reducing the risks

In the case of tractors and farm machinery, supervision is vital when machinery or contractors are working on a farm. Keep children in sight at all times.

Never allow a child to approach a working machine alone. If machinery is stopped and parked, limit children’s access to it by removing keys and locking doors.

Ensure all hydraulic lifts are set at down position. Machinery operators need to stay alert for the presence of children.

When it comes to children riding on farm machinery the Childhood Code of Practice for agriculture does not permit children aged seven years or less ride in the cab of a tractor.

Children over seven years should only be allowed ride in cabs where a passenger seat and seatbelt are used. Never let any child or person ride on the drawbar of your tractor or any other machinery.

Ensure that no children are left in the cab if you dismount to adjust PTO, drawbar or lift.

For water/slurry safety, fencing off any farm ponds, open slurry tanks, and open water tanks to prevent access by children is a must.

Ensure agitation points are covered and safety grills are on slurry tanks and closed at all times. Ensure that it is a windy day when agitating slurry this is indicated by a using a flag which should be blowing strongly.

Children should never be in the farmyard when slurry is being agitated.

Young children should be accompanied by an adult if approaching any livestock, especially if there are bulls, rams or cows with calves at foot on farms.

No children should be involved with livestock during or after giving birth as cows/ewes may become aggressive to defend their young.

Restrict children’s access to dangerous heights, lofts, high loads, and over-ground slurry stores present on farms.

Finally, the effort spent looking after and supervising children is worth the effort. This reduces the risk of a tragic accident and it gives children the correct safety instincts which will be invaluable to them throughout their lives.

By Anthony O’Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit.