Children on farms – what does the law say?

The safety of children on the farm is an important subject and the FWiSpace discussion forum has seen emotive views expressed in relation to the tragic death of Sam Stanbridge in March of 2007.

Anne Davies, partner in leading law firm Vizard Wyeths takes a look at the legal issues producers need to be aware of

Why is this an issue?

In the last 10 years 45 children/young people have met their death on farms and over 400 have suffered serious injury. This prompted a number of interested parties to introduce a leaflet “Be responsible, keep children safe on your farm”.

Why do the Health and Safety Executive prosecute?

The cynical and not so cynical will point to the need to meet targets. But the HSE have guidelines as to when a prosecution is to be brought and some of the considerations are:

  • Ensure that individuals with legal responsibilities take action to deal with risk
  • To promote compliance with the law
  • To ensure that those who breach are held to account

Once a prosecution has been brought and if a finding of guilt has been established or a plea of guilt having been entered, then at the sentencing stage the court will take into account a number of mitigating and aggravating factors. Typically the mitigating factors will be issues such as:

  • No previous history of non-compliance with the law
  • A good approach to health and safety
  • A system to review health and safety requirements and take into account new legislation as it develops
  • Where appropriate, documents to support the health and safety systems that are in place

A court would also take into account where appropriate that those whom are being sentenced have already suffered the emotional consequence of a death particularly when that death involves a child.

Regrettably the shock and distress that follows a death – experienced by people not directly affected – can often be short lived. The Health and Safety Executive have identified, some key issues for them to address in the agricultural industry:-

  • The culture of risk taking within the industry
  • Perception of over regulation and excessive red tape
  • Lack of integration of health and safety management into farm business management

The way forward

As an industry agriculture most probably has the largest interface with children. The spring and summer months see more accidents than the winter months which may well reflect activity levels on farms. Helpfully, the causes of death and serious injury to children remain consistent such that this should assist in addressing the issues.

The NFU in conjunction with the Northumberland Farm Safety Working Group have a useful guide on children’s farm safety. Remember that children under 13 years of age must not drive or operate tractors or other farm machinery and children under 13 years of age much not ride as a passenger on tractors or other farm machinery. Children over 13 can only ride on a tractor if a passenger seat and seatbelt are fitted and the seatbelts are worn. DVD’s on child safety on the farm are available via the HSE.

What should I do?

  • Do you have a basic health and safety policy in place?
  • Do you have a system for ensuring that all farm workers are suitably trained in the tasks that they are undertaking?
  • Have you identified the hazards on your farm and have you taken steps to either remove those hazards or minimise those hazards?

In the event that an accident occurs then have you:

  • Trained somebody in basic first aid?
  • Have available a first aid kit?
  • Have emergency contact numbers?
  • Have trained all farm workers and family members in what to do in an emergency?

Please remember that an over reliance on mobile phones to assist in the event of an emergency can cause problems particularly if signals are poor and batteries are not properly charged.

Do you have any further questions about health and safety law. Share them in the forums and Anne Davies will aim to answer them.

If you would like any further advice on the above issues, or any employment law query, please contact Wendy Trehy, Employment Partner at Vizards Wyeth.

Alternatively post on the discussion forums.

VW marque

This article was written by leading law firm Vizards Wyeth, Visit the forums for an opportunity to ask follow up questions or to seek advice on a related issue. The information in this article is subject to the Vizards Wyeth Terms and Conditions.