Farm Safety

Rural Financial Counselling Service NSW

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Child Safety on Farms

Child farm injury

Approximately 20 children under 16 years are fatally injured on an Australian farm every year and many more are hospitalized or treated by General Practitioners across rural Australia.

The major causes of child deaths and injuries on farms are dams, farm vehicles, machinery, motorcycles and horses. Age and development characteristics also place children at greater risk.

A recent study by the National Farm Injury Data Centre (NFIDC) based at AgHealth of on-farm fatalities for the 2001-2004 period found that:

  • Children (0-14yrs) make up 15-20% of farm injury deaths, around 2/3 are male.  Main agents are:
  • Drowning in dams (mostly under five year olds)
  • ATVs (“All terrain vehicles” or 4 wheeled motorbikes)
  • Farm vehicles (cars, utes)
  • Around quarter of all child deaths were visitors to the farm, but for ATVs around ½ are visitors
  • Drowning accounts for around 35-40% on child farm deaths, with farm dams being by far the most common site.

There has been an improvement in the reduction of toddler drowning on farms in recent years – particularly a reduction of dam drownings, which have halved since the early nineties. However, drowning is still the number one cause of child farm fatality in Australia. A common scenario is that a toddler wanders away from the home un-noticed into farm water bodies or toward other farm hazards (vehicles, mobile machinery).  Apart from dams, children can find their way into creeks, troughs, dips and channels.  Children under five years are at greatest risk.

For non-fatal injury of children on farms, older children (5 -15 yrs) figure more prominently – particularly in relation to injury from 2 and 4 wheeled motorbikes (and horses).  Whilst there tend to be more hospital ED presentations for 2 wheeled motorbikes, injuries from 4 wheelers (ATV’s) are likely to be more severe or fatal, with 4 times as many children being killed off ATV’s than 2 wheel motorbikes on farms (NFIDC 2007).

Priorities for Child safety on farms:

Priorities for child safety on farms developed by AgHealth and Farmsafe Australia, based on research of effective solutions (see report) are for farm families to:

  1. Have a securely fenced house yard (safe play area) for children to play, unless an adult can closely supervise them on the farm; and ensure children:
  2. Always wear seatbelts and restraints when in cars, utes and trucks
  3. Don’t ride on tractors, ATV’s or in the back of utes
  4. Always wear helmets when riding bikes and horses

Whilst these are short-list priorities, families still need to identify and address other hazards and risks specific to their farm.  Controlling these risks should commence with reducing hazards and designing for safety where possible.  See below for further information.

Resources:  The following publications developed by AgHealth relate to key child injury risks on farm and best practice safety recommendations.

  • Child Safety on Farms Checklist
  • Safe Play Areas on Farm (pamphlet)
  • Safe Play Areas on Farms: A Resource Booklet
  • Get Going.  Moving Kids Safely on Farms (booklet)
  • Childcare options for farming families (factsheet)
  • Child Safety on Farms Guideline (booklet)
  • CSOF powerpoint presentation
  • Case studies on child safety from farms

All available from Ag Health & Safety website . . .

A number of promotional items are also available on request, from AgHealth, such as the Horseplay poster, CSOF blue poster, CSOF summary leaflet and CSOF Fridge magnet .  Research Reports relating to child safety can be found on the NFIDC reports page.

More about Safe Play Areas…

With drowning being the number one risk for toddlers on farms, having a secure house yard or “safe play area” with child-resistant gates and latches, is especially important.  The idea is to provide an access barrier between toddlers and farm hazards – much like a pool fence does, but in reverse.  Whilst it is good to aim toward pool standard fencing (AS 1926.1 – 2007) this may not always be possible.

The principle is to make it difficult for young children to leave the house yard without an accompanying adult.  All family members and visitors need to be alert to keep the area secure as well (eg. ensure gates are kept closed).  Fences themselves need to be resistant to a child climbing through or over them (eg. solid or vertical rail, no footholes, 1.2 -1.5 m high, low ground clearance).

Having an interesting yard with play items such as sandpits and open-areas for ball play, can help as well.  The Safe Play Area Resource (see link above), provides good ideas for keeping kids safe, active and engaged from a child development point of view. A Safe Play Area DVD is also available, from Farmsafe WA, based on a safe play demonstration site at Kojonup.

No supervision is perfect and there is no perfectly secure house yard fence.  However, a combination of safe play areas with close and active supervision will help reduce the risk of toddler drownings and other farm injury to young children on farms and rural properties.

For further information contact:

Kerri-Lynn Peachey

Phone: 02 6752 8210

This report is reproduced with permission from Ag Health Australia.