Farm Safety Week 2016 Day 5 – ‘Farming is not Child’s Play’

8 July 2016

Farm safety week logo

Alan Plom (RIG’s Vice Chair, Communications and Events Coordinator) ponders on the last (official) day of Farm Safety Week safety of children.

Today the Farm Safety Foundation reminds us that farming is not child’s play. The question posed to farming community all week has been “Who would fill your boots?” if something were to happen to them.  This is all the more poignant when children are involved…

It was a relief that HSE reported on Wednesday that no children were killed on farms in GB during 2015-16, but there is no doubt there have been many non-reported injuries and near misses [or “near hits” might be a more accurate description, especially in relation to children running around the farm yard or fields, untethered’?]

We will never know about the countless ‘near hits’ which occur on farms each year, but I am sure we have all had them?  The following incident could have made it a very different headline too – although it would not have featured in HSE’s statistics as it occurred on the road, so was investigated by the Police….. 

School pupils injured in tractor accident on school trip

A group of primary school children were injured on a trip to a farm at Edingley in Notts, when the trailer they were in became detached from the tractor pulling it. 11 children, 2 members of teaching staff and the farmer were also injured in the accident, which occurred on 11 March 2016.

One of the 11 children described how the trailer went "really fast down the hill" at the farm in Nottinghamshire before it went sideways and "launched us off".

The children suffered various injuries, and one was reported to be struggling to sleep since it happened and has been having nightmares and flashbacks. At least one boy had to stay in hospital overnight for observation. He suffered bruises to his head, ribs and chest.  A teaching assistant sustained a broken wrist and was off work for four weeks, another teaching student sustained a head wound requiring stitches, whilst the farmer (who was also in the trailer), dislocated his shoulder. They were all very lucky.  

[See HSE’s guidance on Carrying passengers on farm trailers’ (AIS 36) and on child safety

There is plenty of other good advice and promotional material on child safety out there though.  A good start is the Farm Safety Partnership leaflet “Safety focus on: Children on Farms” .

We also need to think about protecting older children/young persons.  The Farm Safety Foundation’s Stephanie Berkeley, announcing today’s ‘Child Safety’ theme in England said: “We all know that farms can be wonderful places for children, where independence and responsibility are fostered and family relationships are strengthened. The farm environment provides children with valuable and unique experiences that enable them to develop both socially and physically, even though they are in an isolated setting. However farmyards are not playgrounds and evidence shows that this places children at greater risk of injury when playing or helping out around the farm.”

“Farms remain the only workplace where children still continue to die. Many of us think about the issues surrounding young children on the farm and how to protect them from the many hazards in such a dangerous environment. Few of us actually consider the older child who is maybe working with us and exposed to an additional danger - children like George Hitchcock from Belper in Derbyshire.”

2.00pm on 3 January 2013 is a moment 16 year old George will never ever forget. He used to ‘help out’ his 47 year old Uncle Harold’s on his nearby farm, every day. They were loading the new £30,000 feeder wagon with straw.

George recalls: “Uncle Harold always seemed to be in a hurry and was still excited about the purchase he had made only one month before….  He would often take shortcuts especially with this job. He never liked to cut the bales on the ground and lift them up in two goes - the way me and my cousins did it. That's the right way, but Harold thought that was a waste of time. Plus it was windy and he hated the idea that the straw might blow away and get wasted, so he had a plan. He would get us to pick the bales up, he would climb the ladder to the top of the seven foot feeder and cut the strings at the top. The machine wasn’t normally operating then, as we would load the straw first and then add silage and liquids to make the feed.”

However, when George went with his cousin to get the silage, Harold climbed the steps to cut the strings on the bale.  "When we returned he was nowhere to be seen. We could have only been gone for a minute, so we started calling out for him but there was no answer. I went straight up the ladder and spotted my uncle underneath the corkscrew."

“Susan climbed into the feeder while I called my Aunt Carol to get the emergency services. They told us to keep pumping his chest and that the air ambulance would be with us as quickly as possible. We kept talking to him and pumping his chest until we heard the noise of the helicopter coming but it couldn’t see us as we were in the feeder. We had to wave something around so they could see us but his lips were turning blue so we knew it was probably too late.”

The emergency services thought they would have to cut a hole in the side of the tub but this machine had a side door. Unfortunately Harold had suffered a broken neck in the fall and was pronounced dead at the scene. 

George, who is now studying agriculture at Derby College explains “I was only 13 at the time but even I knew that this wasn’t a safe way to do this job. You can tidy up a bit of straw in the yard and it doesn’t waste that much in the scheme of things.”

He also recounted his experience of being interviewed by the Health & Safety Executive afterwards. “Looking back it all feels very surreal. It is strange that we are still using this machine every day but I suppose it’s a permanent reminder to take your time and work safely. Don’t try to cut corners - there’s always a safe way to do the task.”

Stephanie added: “This is a different take on safety of children on farms. I met George when we were doing the ‘Yellow Wellies’  Introduction to Farm Safety training at Derby College a few months ago and he shared his experience with us and the rest of his class. Many of whom weren’t aware that he had undergone such an experience.

“George is a very brave young man for allowing us to use his story. It clearly demonstrates that children can be particularly vulnerable on the farm. Farmers of all ages; the message all week has been Who would fill your boots? if something were to happen to you but have you ever thought what if it were your son, your daughter or your young relative who were to be the first on the scene of your accident? How would this affect them? What about the example you are showing them?

These are impressionable young minds who often learn their behaviours from their older counterparts so are you teaching the new generation to respect their lives, plan ahead and avoid risks or are you putting them in as much danger as you yourself?”

Another harrowing and very poignant ‘case study’ is available on the Yellow Wellies website describing how the former YFC of Ulster President, Wallace Gregg,  from Cloughmills, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, watched his 8 year old son have a serious accident with a tractor last year.

The 26th of October 2015 was a day like any other for Wallace. He was preparing to pick up a low loader trailer from a local plant hire company using his tractor. His 8 year old son James was on half term holiday and asked if he could come along and help. Wallace agreed and he, James and younger brother Simon (5) all piled into the tractor cab, with Simon sitting on the small passenger seat in the tractor cab and James standing in front of Simon, with his back to the cab door.

A little into the journey Wallace started to slow the tractor down as they were approaching a junction. At this point the tractor hit a bump in the road, the near-side tractor door flew open and James fell out. Wallace immediately stopped the tractor and got out.  He found James lying semi-conscious at the side of the road. Amazingly, this story has a ‘happy’ ending….

James was taken to the local hospital and transferred to Belfast later that afternoon. He had sustained a double skull fracture and was kept under sedation in intensive care for 24 hours. Fortunately, he didn’t need surgery for his injuries but remained in hospital for eight days. He has since made a full recovery and returned to school – although his condition is still being monitored to ensure that he has not suffered any long term effects.

Stephanie Berkeley added: “This is a story that many farmers across the UK and Ireland can empathise with. It is something that many farmers do and have done for centuries but Wallace would be the first to advise people to really think twice and use your common sense when dealing with children on the farm. People often believe that farm children understand farm risks, but most children who are hurt in farm incidents are family members. A few straightforward steps, and proper supervision of children, will reduce these risks.

“Wallace is a very brave father to share his experience with us. Taking a ride on a tractor, combine or an ATV seems exciting to many children, but it is just not safe. Sometimes parents will say, “Well, my children always rode with me and nothing bad ever happened to them.” But year after year, we see life changing injuries to children from farm vehicles, and no parent ever thinks it will be their child.”

The Farm Safety Foundation is working closely with Young Farmers Clubs, the NFU and a range of farming organisations, including colleges, to help raise awareness of farm safety among young farmers, challenge and change their attitudes towards farming safely and reduce the toll of injuries and fatalities which bring heartbreak and misery to numerous families and rural communities every year.

What more can be done?

In Northern Ireland, HSENI recently ran a Child Safety on Farms Week (13 to 17 June) to encourage the farming community to keep children safe on the farm this summer and highlighting the additional risk of contractors operating potentially dangerous vehicles and machinery on-site. Six children under 11 have lost their lives due to farm accidents since 2000.

Northern Ireland’s annual Child Safety on Farms Week is part of their ‘Be Aware Kids – child safety on farms’ campaign - the largest initiative in NI to engage with children. The programme has been running since 1999 and is extremely well known in the farming industry. It is supported by the members of the Farm Safety Partnership (FSP), and aims to eradicate fatal and serious accidents to children, through an extensive education and outreach programme.  This includes a programme of planned school visits throughout the country, with HSENI inspectors visiting rural primary schools to deliver interactive workshops about farm safety. This year, more than 80 schools and 8,000 pupils have been visited.

In addition, for this year’s campaign, a new app called ‘Farm Secure’ has been developed by students at Ulster University’s School of Nursing. Sponsored by the FSP the free app is aimed at primary school children and features videos and an interactive quiz. It will be available for Android from 17 June and for IOS over the coming weeks. 

We can do no better than echo HSENI Chief Executive Keith Morrison, who said: “I’d urge parents to take a few moments to think about the safety of children and to put in place simple measures so that your family have a happy and safe summer on the farm. Please make sure children are kept well away from livestock, harmful substances, falling objects, slurry gas and slurry tanks, and moving vehicles such as tractors, quad bikes or harvesters.” 

Read more about the NI campaign (which includes an annual Poster Competition, posters, TV adverts, two new farm safety DVDs aimed at children (‘Dangerous Playgrounds’ for 4 to 8 year olds and ‘Farm safe’ for 8 to 11 year olds), and see HSENI’s Farm safety checklist for parents and further information about the development of the Child Safety App on the HSENI website.

You can also read (and download) HSENI’s Approved Code of Practice: “ Safety of children and young persons in agriculture in Northern Ireland” – which they have very helpfully retained – unlike in GB, where it was withdrawn by HSE as part of their review of regulations and guidance. HSENI have also focused on young persons too, eg by visiting ‘at risk’ premises and delivered 100 health and safety presentations to 2,700 young people under its ‘SafeStart’ initiative, and distributed over 7,000 copies of its new ‘Be Safe When You Start’ booklet aimed at young people entering the world of work for the first time.

In southern Ireland, RIG Committee member Dr John McNamara, (Health and Safety Specialist with Ireland’s education and advisory body Teagasc) recently called for greater vigilance on farms related to the safety of children as school holidays approach, and highlighted the fact that over the last 10 years fatal accidents involving children were associated with tractors (75%); falls or collapses (17%), and drowning (8%).

They also get out to meet the farming community at a wide range of events. These include a focus on child safety. This short film (featuring John) shows us how to do it - properly – but, of course, this needs commitment and resources.

Some of us still manage to get involved in child safety events in GB, but the opportunities seem few and far between these days.  HSE used to attend shows, but sadly, no more – so we should all play our part to find ways to spread the word. 

For example, I was at 4th ‘Kids Country’ event held at the Peterborough showground last Friday, when over 5200 7-11 year olds were bussed in from across the Eastern region, Home Counties and the Midlands, to learn where their food comes from and the importance of agriculture.  Once again, we took the opportunity to set up a ‘Safety Zone’ where we talked about the risk of drowning and demonstrated what happens when a grain silo is emptied.  We linked this with transport safety too (with a new lorry fitted with CCTV etc, and driver, generously loaned for the day by Openfield).  We gave the children 30 seconds to 'rescue' a small figure from a ‘grain pit’, and asked them what they would do to save someone's life.  I am pleased to say that there was quite a good awareness of the basic principles of 'CPR'!

The Safety 'Zone' also included a demo of fire safety, and children were encouraged to operate a (water-based) fire extinguisher.  Elsewhere, colleagues from the Office of Rail and Road and Network Rail had a stand covering level crossing safety and UKPN's stand covered overhead power lines.

We raised awareness of #FarmSafetyWeek and handed out copies of the leaflet “Farms are not playgrounds - 10 ways you can get hurt on the farm”.  This leaflet was originally produced by the TGWU (now Unite the Union) decades ago, but is still available to download on HSE’s website, (including a version in Welsh).

Please tell us about anything you are involved in, or aware of, via or via RIG’s Networks Officer (tel 0116 257 3100).

Twittering on….

I have been banging on about Twitter all week, but I must emphasise its value.  We need to get better at using social media, and joining Twitter has opened up many new lines of inquiry for me, providing useful contacts, new sources of advice, promotional and lecture material, etc.  Just check out the wide number of organisations supporting #FarmSafetyWeek.

One example was ‘farmsafety4kids’. This is a website set up in 2015 by two young children from Co. Mayo.  Check it out.  They did this because THEY realised there were no farm safety websites aimed at children, and (in their words at the time) “there has been a scary increase in farming accidents and deaths in recent years”.    Their website is better than some ‘Grown-Ups’ Company websites I’ve seen (complete with games and sound advice, etc.  They have even been interviewed on every Irish TV station on numerous shows as well as local and national radio stations to spread the farm safety message. So if kids can do it – so should we! [Well done AOibheann and Padraic – you are inspirational.]

Please tell us about any child safety initiatives you are involved in or aware of, via or via RIG’s Networks Officer (tel 0116 257 3100).

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