Child safety on farm - what you need to know

29 July 2022

Farm safety
Farmer holding a child's hand in front of a tractor

Everyone in a farm work place has a responsibility to protect children who are vulnerable because of their age and physical and mental immaturity. Every employer is required by law to manage risks.

Key points:

  • Children should not be allowed in the farm work place (and for young children they should enjoy outdoor space in a secure fenced area).
  • Any access to the work area by children under 16, for example, for education or knowledge experience, should be planned and fully supervised by an adult not engaged in any work activity.
  • Children under the age of 13 years are specifically prohibited from driving or riding on any agricultural machine.

Your responsibilities

Children must be kept away from significant risk and where risks exist they must be very carefully managed and controlled. Normally this means children (under 16) are not in the workplace. If they are taken in to the workplace they must be fully supervised and if given tasks these must be simple and appropriate for their maturity and capability. Guidance on managing risk is available on the HSE website.

As well as a legal responsibility to protect children, there is a moral responsibility to protect and nurture children.

No two children are the same in their physical and mental maturity and capabilities. This means that what a child is allowed to do or not do must be assessed on an individual basis. The law says that children should not be allowed to perform work beyond their physical or psychological capabilities or which is inherently dangerous. Many farm activities fall into the inherently dangerous category.

Watch this hard-hitting video by the Wales Farm Safety Partnership

Risk assessments

Risk assessments for the whole of the work place which take into account an individual child’s characteristics must be completed. A one size fits all approach is not acceptable. Guidance on what a child between the ages of 13 and 16 years may be able to do and most importantly cannot do on farm is available on the HSE web site.

Remember the work children are allowed to carry out must be individually assessed and will differ from child to child according to individual capabilities.

Vehicles and machinery

These present the greatest risk to children and are probably the areas of farm life most attractive to older children. The following are risks for which there are specific legal duties.

Prohibition on driving vehicles and machines
It is illegal to allow a child under 13 to ride on or drive agricultural self propelled machines (such as tractors) and other specified farm machinery while it is being used in the course of agricultural operations or is going to or from the site of such operations.

Prohibition on children riding on machines, vehicles or implements
It is illegal to allow a child under 13 years old to be carried on a tractor, self-propelled agricultural machine, or a machine or implement mounted on, towed or propelled by a tractor or other vehicle, including a machine or agricultural implement pulled by an animal, usually a horse.

Children are not safe simply because they are in a cab – they can and do fall from cabs through doors which open accidentally, rear windows, or during emergencies. When they get out of the cab they are vulnerable to being run over by the machine as it moves off. Children can also present a risk to operators when they leave the driving position (e.g. to open gates) by working controls such as parking brakes, hydraulic levers etc, and they can distract the operator’s attention in an emergency.

It is illegal to allow a child under 13 years old to operate most farm machinery.

Children between 13 and 16 can safely use some machines, but only if they are properly trained, supervised and competent.

Children are attracted to machinery and often fail to appreciate the dangers involved. Agricultural machinery that is used without anyone in attendance is therefore a particular risk. Keep unaccompanied children away from farm activities, and make sure that:

  • all machinery is properly guarded;
  • you do not allow children to help you – a moment’s lack of attention can result in tragedy.
  • you do not leave a child in, on, or near machinery, including tractors etc.

ATVs

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs or quad bikes) are considered to be self-propelled agricultural machines when they are used in agricultural operations. It is therefore illegal for them to be driven for work by children under the age of 13. In addition, manufacturer’s minimum age recommendations also prevent children under 16 years of age from using most adult-sized machines. It is also illegal to carry a child as a passenger. More information on the safe use of ATVs is available on the HSE website.

Falling objects

Children are naturally curious and adventurous, which often leads them to climb to the upper levels of buildings and high structures such as silos and bale stacks, or just to climb ladders through bravado. They also go into normally out-of-bounds areas when toys such as balls are lost. They may be injured or killed, e.g. when the structure gives way, when they cannot climb down as easily as they climbed up, or when they climb through or along guard rails provided for adults. Roofs which are normally inaccessible may be easily climbed on when, for example, the adjacent silage clamp is full.

Think about how you can stop children getting onto these structures. Consider:

  • making fixed ladders inaccessible by blanking the rungs (e.g. by securing a scaffolding plank across them)
  • removing portable ladders (including any removable lower section of a fixed ladder) so that they cannot be used to get into dangerous areas
  • storing portable ladders so that they are chained/secured to prevent unauthorised use
  • stacking bales, pallets etc. so that children cannot climb up to otherwise inaccessible structures
  • locking or otherwise securing buildings with high machines or equipment in them.

Animals

Animals do not need to be aggressive to cause serious harm to, or even kill, a child. The dangers of mature cattle and horses are obvious, but sheep or pigs have caused serious injury, often when apparently playful.

The best way of reducing the risk from animals is to keep children away from them, or to allow controlled contact only when they are directly supervised by an adult. If you take young children to see animals in the field make sure that they stay close to you and do not wander off among the animals.

Although there are good educational and developmental reasons for encouraging children to have contact with animals, never allow children, even when with an adult, to enter pens or loose housing containing:

  • any bull, boar, stallion, ram or stag
  • cows, sows, mares, does or ewes that have newborn young with them
  • any other animal that is known or likely to be aggressive.

Children may be allowed to enter pens with docile female animals without young as long as they are directly supervised by an adult. If you want to show children young animals, make sure that both the animal and the child are outside the pen, or secure or remove the mother from the pen.

Keep children out of milking parlours unless they are directly supervised.

How safe is your farm - Wales Farm Safety_85694

Where to find more information

Visit the HSE website for more guidance 

Contact the Wales Farm Safety Partnership for free farm signs

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