Dams, quads, heavy machinery, worksheds, motorbikes and horses: the average Australian farm. For children they offer secret hiding places, imaginary worlds, makeshift play equipment, calls to adventure. But while central to every day farming, these work items can be accidents waiting to happen. Small children are typically mobile, curious and keen to explore. They are unable to foresee hazardous, or even life-threatening consequences. Farms present hazards which are just not seen in urban home environments.
Recent research by AgHealth Australia (previously known as the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety, based at Dubbo New South Wales within the School of Rural Health, University of Sydney), has shown that the key risks to children on farms are dams, quad bikes, farm vehicles and machinery, motorbikes and horses. While many of the children fatally injured are those who live on the farm, visitors are also at high risk of an accident due to being unaware of the dangers. The study examined data on deaths on farms involving children under 15 years of age in the period from 2000 to 2017.
Drowning is the number one cause of death on a farm for a child under the age of 15 years, with children under five years at highest risk. This is closely followed by accidents involving a quad. While quads appear easy to use, children should not be carried as a passenger on an adult quad under any circumstances and these practices must be discouraged. Kid-sized quads are also dangerous; they can weigh up to 125 kilograms, becoming virtually impossible for a child to get themselves out from under in the event of a rollover.
Most injuries occurred as the result of a child: falling and being runover as a passenger on agricultural machinery or a farm vehicle; asphyxia due to drowning; or being run over by agricultural machinery or a farm vehicle.
More than half of the children fatally injury on a farm were under five years of age.
One of the most effective ways families can prevent child farm injury is to construct a safe play area separate from the farm work space.
The idea of a safe play area – whether it be the house yard, or in a shady area nearby the house - is simply about constructing a securely fenced area where children can be more easily supervised, and which separates very young children from farm hazards. The physical separation of the small child and the farm workplace acts the same way as a swimming pool fence. It also mentally defines work vs. play spaces for older children.
To assist with keeping kids safe on the farm, some simple yet effective rules are to make sure that children:
• stay in the safe play area unless an adults takes them and looks after them;
• always wear seatbelts in cars, utes and trucks;
• don’t ride on tractors, quads or the back of utes; and
• always wear helmets when riding motorbikes and horses.
On a positive note, the research indicated that the number of unintentional child deaths has fallen since a previous study covering the period 1989-92, however a systematic national injury plan to support child farm safety is required to achieve further reduction.
Kerri-Lynn Peachey presented a paper on Protecting the future: fatal incidents on Australian farms involving children (2001 to 2017) at the 15th National Rural Health Conference.