10 May 1996

& A GHOST HELP OUT

HOW AN ALIEN

Marvik from outer space and the ghost of a 19th century farmer helped young visitors to Easton Lodge learn how to keep safe on the farm during their Easter holidays. Ann Rogers joined the class

A simple guide from the Health and Safety Executive to help you deal with the main dangers to youngsters at play or helping out on your farm:

1 Children should have a safe, easily supervised place to play.

2 Hazards should be securely fenced and chemicals locked away.

3 Spare equipment should be stored securely.

4 Aggressive animals should be kept in childproof enclosures.

5 Dont give children lifts on tractors.

6 Never ask too much of a youngster.

7 They should never help with hazardous machinery, dangerous animals or chemicals.

"TELLING children not to do something is not enough – you must make them think why they are not do it," says Gilly Jones, the ATB-Landbase training organiser for Derby and Burton-on-Trent who teaches children about farm safety.

Gilly ran a course at Easton Lodge, farmers weeklys farm in Lincolnshire, during the Easter holidays for children of Rutland Training Group members. Groups of youngsters aged three-to-five, five-to-seven and seven-to-12 gathered in the former granary to take part in study sessions and later toured the farmyard to spot the hazards set up by farms manager, John Lambkin.

"Living on a farm is living on Mums or Dads place of work, and very, very dangerous," Gilly told the children. "Playing on a farm is like playing in a factory or building site and you are not allowed to do that," she reminded them.

Gilly began each session by encouraging the children to suggest things which were dangerous and say why and how this was so. The mention of tractors soon got them contributing to the discussion.

"Where is the safest place to be when there is a tractor about?" asked Gilly.

"Excuse me, you should stay in your yard," said an emphatic member of the first course of the day, that for the three-to-five year olds.

Drowning

Sound advice, of course, but if you are within range of a tractor or lorry, stand by something big, advised Gilly – a fence, a wall, a building, something the driver would not want to hit, for although he would not want to hit you either, a person can be very hard to see and impossible to hear, she said. She also reminded the children of the high pitched alarm sound that tractors and lorries make when reversing.

Discussion ranged over drowning in water, under ice and in grain or sand, how and why mother animals could be dangerous, how chemicals can harm you and why you should wash you hands after being out on the farm for fear of infection.

The dangers of climbing ladders, falling bales and lighting matches were also discussed and illustrated during the video about the farm adventures of Marvik, the indestructible visitor from outer space. This exuberant, green-faced character would take no notice of the warnings that the children in the film gave him. He rode between a tractor and its trailer, fell and was run over. He played in the yard without taking care and was struck by another tractor. He rode on a conveyor belt and fell. He climbed ladders, became buried in grain, climbed on bales and started a fire.

The five-to-seven year olds also watched Marvik behaving recklessly. Although each group covered the same basic issues Gilly increased the complexity of her courses in accordance with the ages of the children.

For example, she told the five-to-seven year olds how she had put her own life at risk as a toddler by eating berries and had to be rushed to hospital for treatment, and how when her own children ride out on their ponies, she makes them tell her where they are going in case there is an accident and she has to go and find them. Each group had an art and written work session and theirs featured the warning signs that might be found around a farmyard.

Ghost hunt

Among the additions for the senior age group was the dangers to people and dogs when coming within the range of an operation that requires the operator to wear protective clothing, masks or ear muffs.

These seven-to-12 year old children didnt meet Marvik. Their story was more shocking and more thought-provoking. It told of a farmers children, a brother and sister, moving to a new farm and making friends with the farm workers children who already lived there. Together they went on a ghost hunt, and were saved by the farmer-ghost from 20th century replications of fatal accidents of the last century: Deaths caused by climbing on a wheel propped against a wall, being caught up in machinery, drowning and being run over.

And just when the heroes felt they were safe another horrific incident occurred, the outcome of which we shall never know. It was a reminder that although older, well-taught children may have more freedom and not have to "stay in their yard," like the little ones, we should never be complacent. Adults or children, we should look out for each other and, like the ghost, never rest in peace when a childs safety is at risk.

When Gilly Jones asked questions she received a good response, especially from the middle age group.

What have we here?How can that be dangerous? Gilly took the children around the farm to spot items that had been left about and discussed ways children might come to harm playing with them.

The old granary was the "schoolroom". Gilly made the children consider the dangers around them, discuss them and take literature home to read.

A wheel propped against a wall can be a killer, as the older children learnt from the video. Batteries contain acid and can burn you, Gilly warned and kept the children at a safe distance.

Colouring helped impress facts on the minds of the youngest age group.