The number of children killed on British farms has risen to its highest level for eight years.

Six of the 45 people who met their deaths in farm accidents during 2005/06 were children, according the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics – the highest recorded number of child deaths since 1997/98.

Three of the children were family members aged five or under, including a five-year-old crushed by an all-terrain vehicle and a two-year-old child who drowned in an uncovered sheep-dip bath.

Another two-year-old toddler was run over by a tractor being driven by his mother after falling from the rear window.

She had stopped the vehicle to recover her son, but before she could reach him, the tractor rolled over him.

The remaining three child fatalities involved teenagers. Two teenage boys were killed in a barn fire and a 15-year-old farmer’s son died after inhaling Phostoxin – an aluminium phosphide gas fumigant used in vertebrate pest control.

Roger Nourish, HSE head of agriculture, said it was “tragic that so many children had lost their lives” in a single year. In contrast, no on-farm child deaths had been recorded during 2004/05.

Of the remaining 39 fatalities, 13 were farm employees (four fewer than last year), 23 were self-employed (down four), and three were adult members of the public (an increase of one).

Dr Nourish said: “While the overall rate for workers is heading in the right direction this year, it is significant the incidence rates for agriculture still remain so high relative to other industrial sectors.”

The cost to farmers and farm workers of accidents during the year is estimated at 290m. But Dr Nourish said these losses could have been avoided if sensible health and safety measures had been taken.

Overall, farming’s fatal incidence rate fell during 2005/06 from 10.4 to 8.8 deaths per 100,000 people employed. But agriculture was still the highest of any major industrial sector. Older workers were particularly vulnerable.

“Unwise risk-taking remains the underlying problem,” said Dr Nourish. “A fundamental culture change is needed.” This included attending farm safety open days, taking advantage of free advice and obtaining vocational qualifications.

For further advice, contact the HSE information line on 0845 345 0055.