7 August 1998

Learning safety lessons early…

At Farmworld, CWS Agricultures open farm at Stoughton, Leicester, child safety is a year-

long concern but during National Child Safety Week farm safety lessons were added to the

range of activities offered. Ann Rogers went to look and learn

PLEASE wash your hands! The instruction is repeated on signs all around Farmworld, CWS Agricultures open farm at Stoughton, near Leicester, and especially at points where visitors can pet animals.

Usually the sign is accompanied by a stainless steel handbasin and paper towel dispenser. It is all part of the organisations concern for the health and safety of visitors and the continued success of the open farm business.

Families and school parties flock to the 12ha (30-acre) holding. On the day that Farmlife called, 14 coaches were drawn up in the car park and cars were lining up in the field beyond.

The farm comprises parkland stocked with a wide variety of pigs, sheep and cattle – including many of rare breeds – and pets such as rabbits and tiny ponies with strong child appeal. But at the heart of the farmyard is a parlour through which a 150-cow dairy herd passes three times a day, and kennels to accommodate them. The herd is grazed on the companys adjoining holding around the head office of CWS Agriculture, an enterprise responsible for 30 estates comprising more than 32,388ha (80,000 acres).

"All tractor work is done early in the morning," says farm park manager David Gore. "Tractors are immobilised when not in use."

But youngsters are able to pretend to drive a tractor as several old models which have been made safe are anchored in a play area.

"We make a point of letting the children know that these are for play and that real ones are dangerous," says David Leavesly, quality systems manager, whose job includes advising all CWS farm managers on safety matters and risk management. "Agriculture has got all the dangers really: Chemicals, machinery, workshops, animals – when you think about it its a surprise you sleep at night!"

But for all the obvious dangers it is innocent-looking objects like gates or tractor tyres left propped against a wall that have caused many of the tragedies of recent years. They present children with tempting climbing challenges but because they are unsecured they can topple and fall with fatal or wounding consequences.

"Good house-keeping is essential," says David, speaking of the need to encourage farmers to make sure that their farms are as safe as possible.

Afternoon milking begins early at Farmworld, which enables the school children to watch the job being done before they have to pile back onto their coaches. A viewing gallery has been built above the parlour so that they can see all that goes on yet stay safe, well out of the way of the action.

At the foot of the stairs there is a cut out "cow" on which youngsters can try fitting a cluster, and information about how the job is done. And theres Mollie the cow, too. Press the button and she will tell you about herself in a kindly voice that will be familiar to The Archers listeners as the voice of the late Martha Woodford.

While Holsteins like Mollie comprise 90% of the herd, six other breeds are also represented and examples of two very rare ones, Irish Moiled and Kerry, are soon to be added.

Rides around the farm on a trailer designed for transporting people safely and drawn by either a tractor or Shire horses are one of the fun activities. There is a large play area with climbing frames and swings, and plenty of room for picnicking. Farmworld also has a cafe and its own pub so with so much encouragement to enjoy meals or snack the "Wash you hands" instruction is absolutely essential and most of the notices also make it quite clear why.

Not washing his hands between stroking a horse and eating a bun was what did for the last remaining child in the rhyme that youngsters were encouraged to learn during Farmworlds Child Safety Week lessons.

After they had had their picnic lunch and a run around, the four and five year olds from Standens Barn Lower School, Northampton went along to one of the lessons farm park manager David Gore was giving that week. His lesson was based on the Health & Safety Executives booklet On the Farm* which includes a gory rhyme – the kind that sticks in the mind and with it, it is hoped, the safety message which David patiently discussed with them.

"Which animals are dangerous?"

"Why are they dangerous?"

The children were quick to put up their hands with responses and deputy head teacher Ann Mitchell helped them read and chant the verses strung out on posters along the wall. They tell how dangerous activities led to the demise of 10 little schoolchildren.

How much they will remember it is impossible to say. But the message was made clear. Farms are wonderful places. They are fun. But they are dangerous too.

"We tell them that Farmworld or similar farm parks are the places to go, but warn them to stay away from farms not specifically designed for visitors because of all the dangers," says David Leavesly

*If you would like a copy of the On the Farm leaflet which contains puzzles as well as the rhyme and an instructive commentary, write to HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6FS. There is no charge. Inquiries (01787-881165).