Be farm safe: Child safety

Over the past 10 years, 31 children and young people under the age of 16 have died in work-related incidents in agriculture, as well as a further 12 between the ages of 16 and 18.

In the same 10-year period, many more children will have suffered injuries such as leg amputations or serious burns.

Children and young people live on, work at and visit farms. We want children and young people on farms to develop their love for farming, but this must be done safely. We can’t escape the fact that agriculture is the industry with the highest incidence rate of work-related fatal injuries. Does this really have to mean dangerous jobs for boys and girls?

Many of the deaths happened to younger children at work with their parents. They occurred as a consequence of work activity rather than the child doing the work themselves.

The messages from HSE about how to keep children safe on the farm don’t change. While these tragedies are keenly felt by the families involved and throughout their local community, it is a national tragedy that they are still happening. The stark reason for this is simple: Children and young people are still being exposed to the same unmanaged hazards and risks.

In a recent court case following a child’s death from an agricultural accident, the judge called for a clear message to be sent to the farming industry emphasising that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

All of the situations described below have led to the death of children and young persons. Don’t let such an avoidable accident happen on your farm. Making sensible risk assessments means that agriculture does not have to be a dangerous job for boys and girls and ensures the next generation of farmers.

The current regulations are called Prevention of Accidents to Children in Agriculture Regulations 1998 (PACAR).

The legal requirements set out in PACAR are not new. They date back to duties to protect children under the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act 1956. The 1956 Act evolved in turn from agricultural law dating back to the 19th century, so this should come as no surprise to anyone involved in agriculture.

There are two specific legal provisions. These set out the duties of prohibition on driving vehicles and machines and prohibition on children riding on machines, vehicles or implements.

This means that:

  • It is illegal to allow a child under 13 to ride on or drive agricultural self-propelled machines (such as tractors) and other specified farm machinery while it is being used in the course of agricultural operations or is going to or from the site of such operations.
  • No child under 13 years old can be carried on a tractor, self-propelled agricultural machine, or a machine or implement mounted on, towed or propelled by a tractor or other vehicle, including a machine or agricultural implement drawn by a horse.

So, whatever criterion parents may use to justify their child’s presence in a cab, if you do so, you are breaking the law.

Children are not safe simply because they are in a cab – they can and do fall from cabs through doors which open accidentally, rear windows or during emergencies. Their health or hearing could also be damaged. When they get out of the cab they are vulnerable to being run over by the machine as it moves off.

Children can also present a risk to operators when the latter leave the driving seat (e.g to open gates) by working controls such as parking brakes, hydraulic levers etc. They can also distract the operator’s attention in an emergency.

Children under 13 years old may only legally ride on a trailer, or on a load carried by a trailer, if there are adequate means, such as edge protection, to prevent them falling from it. You should adopt the same standards if you carry older children.

The PACA regulations are supported by an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) that covers how risks to children under the age of 18 should be managed. An ACOP is not law but is used like the Highway Code, to assist the court to determine if adequate precautions have been taken and if other general legal provisions such as Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 have been contravened.

The reality is that health and safety law also places restrictions on work undertaken by children over 13 and young people where the risks cannot be adequately controlled.

For example, this will include most mechanised jobs in agriculture. The work restrictions mean that before children are allowed to do a job, the farmer (parent, relative or employer) needs to ask themselves this question: Is the work they are being allowed to do – or the environment where they are going to do it – likely to be a danger to them?

There is no simple test for identifying what is dangerous. You have to make a judgement.

  • Start from first principles – if it looks dangerous, it probably is.
  • Do a simple mental risk assessment. Ask yourself a series of questions about the task, i.e why it’s done, how often it is done, who does it, where they do it and so on.
  • This will help you identify work tasks that are suitable for children and young people to do. Use the free leaflets provided by HSE, the HSE website and the PACAR ACOP to assist you in this process.

Remember: There are local authority by-laws which require licensing of child workers. This law is not enforced by HSE.

You need to consult the child employment/education welfare officer at your local authority, before allowing children of compulsory school age to undertake “light work” on your farm.

Whatever work task you set a child or young person to undertake you must assess their capabilities, in terms of health and safety, to do the job. You need to be sure that they will not put themselves or others at risk.

To do this you must take account of their training, knowledge, experience and age. You should also assess their physical capabilities and their ability to adhere to instruction. Training should include the identification of hazards in the workplace and emergency procedures.

Children and young people need a higher level of supervision than adult workers. Young people do not have the same perception of risk, or their own mortality, as adults. Supervision is the best way to ensure that the training you have given has worked and to assess the young person’s competence.

Sometimes, the distinction between play and work can be a subtle one. An obvious example of this is the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs or quad bikes).

Some parents buy these for children as recreational vehicles and, where they are used for leisure, the health and safety at work law does not apply to them.

If you send your child to do a work task on an ATV (e.g to round up or feed animals), then it is being used for work and the age restrictions, requirements for training, maintenance and wearing a helmet all apply.

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