Keeping our children safe: it’s more than a priority
The school holidays are here.
As a consequence, the coming weeks will see large numbers of children exploring every nook and cranny of the farms they live on.
This puts an even greater on the parents to keep them safe. Farms are dangerous enough places at the best of times, but particularly so at when the likes of large tractors, silage harvesters and trailers are being used around the clock. Earlier this year I was on a farm just after milking time and the man in question was trying to get the cattle fed as quickly as possible. It staggered me as to just how fast a modern tractor can be put through its paces, even in reverse gear. I was also taken aback at just how little warning that bystanders get of modern machinery coming out of and going into sheds. This was my perspective of what was going on around me as an adult. So what’s it like for young children, who see the farm yard as a place of adventure. They have no real sense of what health and safety really means. Young children cannot be expected to ‘think safe’ every time they are allowed out of the farm house. So it’s up to adults to ensure that they do this thinking on their behalf. And one of the most effective ways of achieving this is to make sure that there are no children close at hand, when heavy machinery is brought into use.
The same principle holds when stock are moved into and out of sheds. It takes a few short seconds to check on the whereabouts of children once any particular job of work is about to be undertaken. But, surely, it’s time well spent. Farmers and contractors must also force themselves to slow down if they are carrying out work with children in the vicinity. Again, it’s those extra few seconds that such an approach provides which will make all the difference when it comes to avoiding a farm tragedy. There seems to be a growing trend for modern tractors and machinery to be driven at close enough to full throttle, even in the confined pace of a farm yard. Seemingly, it has all to do with a macho image and the perceived need to get maximum performance from a piece of kit at all times. This is total folly. What we need is for everyone to slow down and give a second thought to what they are actually doing. There are a number of things that parents can do to help prevent a child having an accident. The following checklist, drawn up by the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI), should help.
Farm safety checklist for parents:
- have a safe and secure play area for young children
- prevent children from playing in or around farmyards and livestock
- make sure your vehicles have good all-round visibility
- prevent all children under 13 years from riding on tractors and farm machinery
- restrict the use of the quad and provide suitable safety equipment
- secure all heavy wheels, gates, heavy equipment and stacked materials to prevent them from toppling over
- ensure your slurry lagoon is securely fenced to prevent children from gaining access and make sure tank covers are always in place
- always keep children well away when mixing slurry
- keep track of where family members are playing or working and when they are expected back
- make sure everyone washes their hands before eating and drinking
- keep chemicals locked in a secure store when not in use
- make sure that guards are in place to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery
- make sure all family members know what to do in an emergency
- prepare a list of emergency contact telephone numbers
As part of the recent ‘Child Farm Safety week 2021’ HSENI is launched its annual ‘Avoid Harm on the Farm’ child safety poster competition.
HSENI CEO, Robert Kidd, said:“We are highlighting the need for the farming community to ensure that children are kept safe on the farm. I would ask our farming families to think about the risks and put simple practical measures in place to make sure their children are safe at all times.
He added: “I would encourage parents to help their children identify dangers such as silage harvesting, slurry operations, and illustrate to us their ideas for farm safety.
“Encourage your children to enjoy the farmyard, but remember, their young age, lack of maturity and experience could potentially expose them to dangerous situations.”
Livestock and Meat Commission CEO Ian Stevenson agrees: He has highlighted the hidden – and not so hidden dangers – that can confront children as they may seek to use their farming homes as adventure playgrounds over the coming weeks.
Ian explained: “The school holidays have arrived. The coming weeks will see children wanting to get out and explore their farms at a time when large machinery items such as tractors, slurry tankers, silage harvesters and trailers will be working long hours.
“Under these circumstances the risk of an accident taking place increases accordingly.
“Additionally, livestock of all ages constitute a danger to children. This is particularly so if cows are grazing with young calves. The potential dangers associated with bulls are acute for people of all ages.”
He continued: “This is one of the busiest times of the year for farmers across Northern Ireland. But it shouldn’t be taken as a given that farm accident rates will rise in a commensurate fashion.
“Every farm accident can be avoided. The onus is on farmers and contactors to think through the potential impact of every action before they undertake any piece of work.
“Risks can be mitigated by ensuring that heavy items are properly stacked and secured, by keeping gates to lagoons and slurry tank covers closed when not in use and by knowing where children are at when work with livestock or machinery is taking place on the farm.
“Children, by their very nature, are most exposed to the risk of an accident taking place at this time of the year. School learning may have stopped for the summer but children on farms continue to learn so much more about their surroundings and farming heritage.
“This is excellent learning for our future farmers and leaders but the onus must be on keeping them safe at all times when out and about on farms across Northern Ireland.”
The Commission is an affiliate member of Northern Ireland’s Farm Safety Partnership (FSP). It has a long track record of promoting the highest possible safety standards on local farms.
Prior to lockdown, the LMC was awarded a ‘Highly Commended’ certificate by FSP for helping to promote health, wellbeing and safety to farming families across Northern Ireland.
Ian Stevenson concluded: “Children and young people living on farms are not attending school at the present time. Given this reality, LMC is urging parents and adults to have precautions in place and teach children about safety on the farm.”
Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Victor Chestnutt pointed out that children love to explore and meet animals. But farms are a place of work and are a dangerous environment for children.
He continued: “Children are naturally curious. Children view farms as one big play area and fail to understand the consequences that go hand in hand with playing around machinery, equipment and livestock.
“Farms, and in particular working farms, can be tempting places for them to play and often children do not understand the dangers a farm can present.”
Tragically, children have been involved in fatal on-farm accidents in Northern Ireland.
Victor Chestnutt again:
“It can be very difficult to supervise children and work on the farm at the same time. With this in mind, parents/guardians should think about preventative measures they can put in place to help protect children from the dangers.
“These measures include providing children with a securely fenced off play area, ensuring unattended vehicles are kept locked, and discouraging children from using bales of any description for playing. It is important that we take care when driving a quad or tractor and follow the safety stickers on the equipment.
“It is vital that every farmer and farming family take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their families.”
Work is also ongoing to help families deal with the trauma caused by a farm-related accident.
The 8th annual Embrace FARM (Farm Accident Support Network) Ecumenical Remembrance Service took place in Most Holy Rosary Church,Abbeyleix on Sunday June 27.
Embrace FARM was founded by Brian and Norma Rohan, a farming family from Shanahoe, Co. Laois in 2014 after Brian lost his father Liam Rohan in a farm accident in 2012.
Liam Rohan was a popular farmer who represented Ireland many times at the World Ploughing Championships. Like most farming families the Rohans experienced great and invaluable support from neighbours and friends but were surprised to find that there was little or no emotional or practical support networks available to farm families suffering such loss.
So, they established Embrace FARM which remembers those who have lost their lives, have been injured, supports survivors of farm accidents, their family members, friends and the wider community.
Speaking at the virtual remembrance service, founder Brian spoke about a recent trip to Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin.
He said: “Today we will remember all who have been affected by farm accidents in the 32 counties of our island. Farm families, extended family members, neighbours and friends who have lost a loved one and also those who have survived accidents. All of you are part of a story involving a long journey of loss, grief and trauma.
“Early last week Embrace FARM was kindly invited to Aras an Uachtarain by the President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina to be presented with a tree to acknowledge the work that Embrace FARM does.
“What an honour it was to ring the Peace Bell in remembrance of all the lives lost and injured on the farms of Ireland.”
The Embrace FARM event also saw Brian Rohan reading out the names of 228 deceased victims of farm accidents from the island of Ireland going back to 1945.
John Keane, National President of Macra na Feirfme, read a poem by Brendan Kennelly, Liam McCarthy from Portaferry, Co. Down and representing the ABP group, did a reading from the book of Genesis (9: 8-17) while Mairead Lavery, Agri journalist who lost her father at 12 years of age was the key note speaker.
Martin Heydon TD, Ireland’s Minister for State at the Dept. of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with special responsibility for Farm Safety, lit four candles representing the four provinces of Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
The Embrace FARM service will be broadcast on RTE 1 television on Sunday, 4th July at 11am.