Opinion: Child safety on farms deserves serious attention

I have a heart-shaped scar on my leg. Luckily I can’t remember how, as a child, I got it; apparently I impaled myself on a rusty bit of metal pipe. But I remember very well where I got it; on the 160-acre adventure playground my family called a farm.

I would roam my playground from dawn to dusk, only returning to be fed, before making another hay bale den, or dam across the stream, climbing another tree, or even better, clambering around on the barn and cowshed roofs.

See also: Child safety on farms – rule reminder

Some farming activities were guaranteed thrills. Haymaking meant riding atop the loaded trailer down to the barn, not getting off when it was backed through the doors with about six inches of clearance overhead.

Then riding back on the empty flatbed trailer, standing up – and the faster the tractor was going the better.

I didn’t see Channel 5’s Our Yorkshire Farm when it aired, but I picked up on the controversy about the children doing more or less what I used to do, on a farm not all that far away.

Farms are fantastic places to grow up on, and to learn about food and the countryside, but they are inherently dangerous.

I tell myself that you can’t take all the risk out of life, when my son comes back from mountain biking with another gash and the occasional broken bone.

Seeking thrills and danger is part of the human psyche, after all. We survive, on the whole, though just to take a pedalo out nowadays you have to sign a disclaimer.

As a society, we have split vision on all this. Some people put their children into forest schools so they get to climb trees and cook on open fires.

Some are terrified to let their kids out of doors. I remember the little friend of our son, who asked if he was allowed to walk through a puddle.

In the 21 December issue of Farmers Weekly there was a letter praising the Our Yorkshire Farm family’s happy freedom, and a page of editorial challenging their health and safety breaches. Where do you draw the dividing line? 

There’s rightly a lot of focus on farm safety now, and I remind myself that on our family farm, my brother and my nephew came very close (separately) to killing themselves. I don’t mean near misses, I mean near fatalities.

It’s easily done. You’re in a hurry. You don’t tell people where you are. You don’t take simple precautions.

Farming makes up 1.5% of the UK’s workforce, but farmers account for 15-20% of all workplace fatalities – it’s the UK’s most dangerous profession.

As grown ups, we can make decisions for ourselves, but what about children on the farm? Any of my friends visiting had to do what I did – they usually needed no encouragement.

But with hindsight, I should have been a killjoy – and so should you now.

Follow the rules: that means the law, not just common sense. Risk assess your farm. If something looks like it might collapse or fall on someone, it probably will. Keep young children away.

If your kids get involved when they are old enough, start by explaining the dangers. Have procedures, and supervise. Have no-go areas, and secure them.

There’s nothing like a free-range farm childhood. But keep them happy, healthy and alive.

See more