Farm Safety Week: Managing the safety of children on farm

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Farm Safety Week is today (Friday) challenging the sector to think about the safety of children on farm, especially around machinery and livestock.

Stephanie Berkeley of the Farm Safety Foundation, the charity behind Farm Safety Week, said: “This year’s HSE Fatal Injuries in Agriculture report highlighted that, of the three members of the public killed, one was a three year-old child. This was the fourth child death in the past five years.

“A farm can be a magical place for children, where independence and responsibility are fostered and family relationships are strengthened, but it can also be a dangerous place where the unthinkable can happen in a matter of seconds." 

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Growing up on a farm can be challenging. Jade Lanham, who trains and supports new entrants into agriculture as a technician at Easton and Otley College, had a sobering experience during lambing season at home on her family farm in Norwich. Her three-year-old daughter Evie was with her one morning when she was checking on the ewes (read Jade's story here).

Guy Smith, NFU Vice President and chair of the Farm Safety Partnership said: “Giving children the freedom of the outdoors is something many in the farming community will understandably see the positive side of. But it must be remembered that farms are places of work.

"Just as it would be inappropriate for children to be found unsupervised in working quarries or in busy factories, so too it is irresponsible to give children access to farms without fully evaluating and managing the risks. It is worthwhile zoning farmyards in terms of whether children of a certain age should ever be present or whether they should be supervised or unsupervised.

“There is nothing more heartbreaking than reading or hearing about a child killed or severely injured in a farm accident. While no one wants to see the end of the family farm there is clearly good and bad practice when it comes to managing the practical difficulties that can arise when homes are so closely located to places of work.

"It's clear that by taking good advice and drawing up plans, risks to children can be minimised. All parents and grandparents have a responsibility to take this issue seriously. More generally, farmers should welcome children to farms to introduce them to agriculture - however it must be done with the appropriate level of skilled supervision.”

Jade’s story – ‘It wasn't the ewe's fault. She was just protecting her lamb.’

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“Evie was three years old and had fallen completely in love with our twin lambs. I was busy watering the other sheep and specifically warned Evie to sit on a bale of straw and not to move. I could hear her talking to the lambs and kept glancing at her to make sure she was okay.

"Evie had brought her toy doctor’s kit to play vet. When I wasn’t looking, she hopped off the bale and stood looking at the lambs and I could see her little mind in overdrive. She took the plastic syringe and needle from her doctor's kit to give her new 'patients' an injection.

“Thinking about it now gives me chills as I remember saying 'No, don't get closer' but she totally ignored me and approached the lambs. Within seconds, the ewe charged her, striking her in the solar plexus. Evie was knocked over and cried loudly for some time but I believe this was more the shock of the ewe knocking her over. Physically she was fine with not a scratch on her.

“It wasn’t the ewe’s fault. She was just protecting her lambs. To be honest, I think we got off lightly as we all know others who have been less fortunate in this situation. Since the incident, I am a lot more protective of Evie. It has made me more nervous about being amongst livestock of all sorts, and I do take a lot of extra care.

“I count my blessings it wasn’t worse. However, the unpredictable nature of livestock, no matter how placid the animal, is something that cannot be underestimated. My advice to other farmers is to keep young ones safe.

"However determined they are, don't back down and let them do what they want to do with young animals around. All new mothers are very protective and can show a nasty side. Take someone with you if possible and then they can explain to the child what the adult is doing and why it can be dangerous.”

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