What do you know about safety on the farm? Do you teach your children about farm dangers and hazards? If you don’t, your children may assume the farm environment is not dangerous, putting them at high risk of injury or death.

Every year there are about 115 deaths on Canadian farms. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations and is governed almost entirely by voluntary workplace safety standards. Many children live on farms that often include heavy equipment, huge vehicles and large animals. National data shows that children are among the highest risk group for farm injuries.

An average of 10 young children (ages one to six) are killed each year on Canadian farms. Many others have serious injuries requiring hospitalization. Injuries to farm children peak in the summer with most occurring between June and September, which is the busiest time on the farm. The leading causes of fatal injury in one to six year old farm children are:

  • being run over by a farm tractor or other farm machine when the child was a bystander
  • being run over by a farm tractor or machine after falling from the machine (generally as an extra rider on a farm tractor)
  • drowning in a man made farm water hazard near the farm residence.

Keep an Eye on Young Children at all Times

Young children have to be supervised by adults at all times. Although taking the child along to the farm work area may seem like a good way to keep an eye on them, children should not be allowed on the farm work site. Many injuries happen when the curious child wanders off for just a moment. But keeping children away from the farm can be hard, especially if both parents are working on the farm. Strategies that will help families prevent injuries to young children on the farm include:

  • never permit preschool aged children to enter the farm worksite
  • provide safe play areas for children near the farm house that are physically separate from the worksite
  • develop feasible methods of providing childcare for young children, such as hiring a babysitter for the busy summer days
  • livestock facilities and machinery should be off limits to young children
  • no riders! There should be no passengers on tractors, machinery, or lawnmowers
  • before moving equipment make sure that children are safely out of the way
  • children should not be allowed to play with idle machinery
  • leave hydraulic equipment such as front end loaders and combine heads in the “down” position
  • the brakes should be locked and the keys removed from the ignition of parked tractors and self-propelled machinery
  • always leave a tractor power take-off (PTO) lever in the “neutral” position
  • to prevent drowning, farm ponds and manure storage structures should be surrounded by childproof fencing
  • store ladders away from dangerous areas and out of reach of children
  • avoid tripping hazards. Items should not be left lying around
  • heavy objects should not be left leaning against walls or fences
  • store pesticides and other dangerous chemicals in locked facilities
  • always check bins and wagons before unloading grain.

Children and Farm Chores

The North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks were created to help farm families understand the level of development and skills that a child or adolescent needs in order to safely complete a common farming task. The new guidelines are designed to help parents decide what farm chores are suitable for their child. There are 62 guidelines organized into seven colorful booklets. Each booklet covers:

  • adult responsibilities in assigning children a specific job
  • a developmental checklist for the specific job
  • pictures of main hazards
  • the recommended supervision level for different age groups.

It is important to remember that children grow and develop at different rates, so each child will be different in how and when they are able to help out around the farm. The following is a brief summary to help you understand the level of development that your child possesses at different ages.

Very young children (under age four):

  • learn through touch, taste and physical interaction
  • are especially curious and attracted to sound and movement
  • are often victims of falls from tractors or are run over by vehicles in the farm yard.

Children age four to six:

  • explore their world with little awareness of danger
  • have “one track minds” and minimal body control
  • are most often injured when playing on or near equipment

Children age seven to nine:

  • recognize danger but act before they think
  • want to be involved with adults
  • are slow to avoid danger and are often hurt due to falls or being run over.

Children age 10 to 12:

  • are maturing physically and pressure adults to give them adult responsibilities
  • can follow simple operating procedures and know what to do in emergencies but are often given responsibility beyond their years
  • are most often injured while operating farm machinery on their own.

Children age 16 to 18:

  • ask to do more then they are physically and mentally able to handle
  • are involved in injuries because they lack the experience to anticipate and handle hazardous situations.

Safe Play Areas on the Farm

A farm can be an exciting place for a child to live, learn, and grow. But it can also be a place of great danger. Young children who live on or visit a farm need a safe place to play. Creating a play area that is separate from the worksite is a great way to ensure that children are not playing in dangerous areas or with dangerous things.

The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety in the U.S. has produced a booklet entitled “Creating Safe Play Areas on Farms”. This booklet is designed to help safety professionals, rural and farm leaders, as well as farm owners design and build a safe play area that is appropriate for the children on their farm.

The booklet contains the following information:

  • What is a safe play area?
  • Why are some play areas not safe?
  • What are the elements of effective supervision?
  • How does play help children develop?
  • What environmental factors should be considered?
  • What are some specific play ideas that can be modified for a farm?
  • How is a play area prepared, maintained and improved?
  • What are the six steps for creating a safe play area?
  • Additional resources
  • Childhood growth and development chart
  • Play area design worksheets

You may also request a paper copy of the booklet by calling Health Line at 519-271-7600 or Listowel area residents call 1-877-271-7348 extension 267.

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