18 January 2002

Stopping farm child

accidents that neednt happen

The death of a child is always a tragedy but too often on

farms it is one that should not have happened.

Laurence Dopson talks to the head of Farm Child UK

which is studying accidents and illnesses in farm children

LESLEY Jones, 56, and husband Edward have a 72ha (180-acre) sheep, beef and arable farm near Welshpool, Powys and a 10-year-old son, so Lesley has first hand experience of a child on a farm.

She is also a nurse, trained at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, and was sister of the neonatal ward at Shrewsbury Royal Infirmary.

Now she heads Farm Child UK, a pioneering survey into the causes of accidents and infections happening to children on farms. In addition to working as a researcher and one day a week as a college lecturer, she does the farm administration.

&#42 Research project

Farm Child UK is a prospective research project being carried out in Cumbria, North Yorks, Powys, Dyfed, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Norfolk, Lincs and Cambs by the Institute of Rural Health, for the Health and Safety Executive.

The data is being collected from general practitioners. The object is to find the incidence and type of injury and illness occurring to those under 16, attributable to farming and the use of the countryside for leisure and educational purposes.

"A lot more people use the farm environment than the farm family," Lesley points out. "School children and pre-school children on educational visits, bed and breakfast guests, campers, picnickers. You only have to lean on a farm gate and pick up some cow manure on your hand and eat your sandwiches without washing your hands, or, as one child did, stroke a dog, which had been rolling in litter from the cattle shed, to be at risk from farm bacteria."

Lesley is looking at what has been written about farm hazards to children. "Some major papers have been written in America," she says. "What is coming from the literature is that risk assessments are not properly understood, particularly by farming families in relation to their children.

"When the child asks if he can do something or is asked to assist, there is no understanding of the childs ability – in terms of height and weight ratio – for the task involved, nor of the childs co-ordination skills," says Lesley. A childs age determines how quickly they are going to be able to react to a situation.

Deteriorating farm economics have a bearing on accidents to farm children. Where the farmer is the sole worker on a farm which might have had two or three farm labourers, his wife has to help him – in moving stock, for instance. The children will probably help as well, or if they are not old enough, will be left to their own devices. In school holidays the school age children are in the farm area, with inadequate supervision. "It is a major issue in child care for farm families," says Lesley.

The first person to arrive at the scene of a farm accident is likely to be a family member. Appropriate action may save a life.

Lesley wants to know how many farmers and their wives are first aid trained, and if not whether they would be willing to be trained.

&#42 Protective goggles

Accidents can be prevented. Wearing protective goggles saves eyes. "But then children should not be leaning over, watching dad do some spot welding. You can imagine them being there when he is filling the tractor with spray, ready to go off crop spraying. You can imagine children meddling about in the shed which has no lock on it. Farmers, like other people, put products in incorrect containers which are inadequately labelled."

Contractors are also a factor. Do they know there are small children about? The layout of farms is not convenient. They were built for the horse and cart, not the large combine. Yards come by the house. Tractors drive right past the end of the house, not away from it.

&#42 Rural infections

Lesley hopes the study will find out more about infections related to the countryside. At present these tend only to be noticed when they affect a group of people, like scouts at a camp in Scotland who became ill with e.coli, who were eating their food among sheep droppings in the field and not washing their hands adequately.

Farming families drinking unpasteurised cows milk have a natural immunity from constant exposure, but the visitor has not. In one case it was the grandchildren who went to tea. It could equally be children on a school or nursery visit.

The year 2001 cannot be regarded as representative for normal countryside activity because of foot-and-mouth, so Farm Child UKs survey has been extended and will now be completed in July 2002. Individual farming families in the designated areas may be asked to take part in interviews to get more information.

More information at the website

www.rural-health.ac.uk