Agriculture makes up approximately 1.8% of the workforce in Great Britain but accounts for around 19% of the reported fatal injuries per year. Over the last 10 years the agriculture industry in Great Britain has seen almost one fatality a week as a direct result of an incident at work. Many more farm workers have been seriously injured or had to take time off due to work related illness. The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) 2021/2022 report, detailed that the fatality rate across all industries is 0.38 per 100,000 workers; while in agriculture the fatality rate was over 20 times higher at 8.03 per 100,000 workers.
Unlike most high-risk industries, the agricultural industry has a constant presence of children and young people, who are regularly present on farms as residents but also working on and visiting them. Because farms are also homes, it is not surprising that many children who are killed in farm incidents are family members of workers. In 2021/2022 the youngest person killed on a farm was just 9 years old.
The fatalities that have occurred in the last ten years happened to children who were:
- being carried as passengers on agricultural plant and machinery
- not under proper adult supervision
- working or helping around the farm
- playing unsupervised
Most children under five who are killed in farming related accidents are with an adult at the time.
Under the Prevention of Accidents to Children in Agriculture Regulations 1998 it is illegal for children under the age of 13 to ride on or drive agricultural self-propelled machines. These regulations cover all agricultural machinery including tractors, combines, sprayers, telehandlers, and ATVs. Some of the most common causes of serious and fatal injury to children on farms are falling from vehicles, being struck by moving vehicles or objects, contact with machinery, and driving vehicles.
You must be satisfied that that all farm machinery is properly guarded and children should not be left in, on, or near any machinery unattended. HSE will enforce the law relating to child safety and will consider proceedings against anyone found breaking it, regardless of the outcome of the risk; the presence of any risk is enough to warrant prosecution by HSE without it resulting in any accident. All farm workers should be made aware when children may be present and children should be kept away from yards where farm machinery is operating.
Young people between the ages of 13 and 16 may operate some farm machinery if they are properly trained, supervised, and competent. They may use a low powered tractor either on its own or with a trailed harrow or roller. They may not use any other type of trailer, powered equipment, or anything with a cutting, splitting or crushing mechanism.
When allowing a young person to operate machinery you must be satisfied that they are properly trained and physically capable. They should never carry other children or young persons with them and they should not operate machinery with other people close by. If you are employing any person under the age of 18, you must carry out a risk assessment of the employee fully considering the individual's experience, maturity, and awareness of relevant risks. Employees should always be appropriately instructed, supervised, and trained in accordance with their capability.
Additional causes of serious injury and death to children in the last 10 years include falling from heights, drowning and asphyxiation, contact with animals, poisoning, and fire.
There are ways to reduce the risk faced by children on farms; you should be adequately aware of the risks posed to children present on your farm and you must ensure that these risks are minimised as much as reasonably possible.
Where there is a risk of children climbing structures on the farm, for example bale stacks and silos, you should make them inaccessible. This can be done by blanking rungs of ladders, removing portable ladders, stacking bales and pallets so that they cannot be climbed, and securing areas where there are structures that pose a risk. Carefully consider what might be attractive for a child to climb and ensure that sufficient safety measures are in place to prevent them from being harmed.
Many fatalities on farms are a result of drowning and asphyxiation. Slurry lagoons, reservoirs, grain stores and any other hazardous areas should be securely fenced to prevent children from gaining access to them and tank covers should always be in place. For children who are often present on farms it may be prudent to explain certain risks they could face, for example the potential for drowning in a grain store, or being unable to climb out of a reservoir due to an active irrigation pump. Children should be kept well away from any area which presents a risk of drowning.
Children are more easily killed and injured by falling objects than adults. The past 10 years have seen children killed in an agricultural setting by gates closing on them, equipment falling on them, and other objects propped against walls (for example tractor wheels) collapsing on them. All heavy objects and materials should be locked away and stacked securely to prevent any falling or toppling onto children and causing crush injuries.
When it comes to livestock, children should never be left unattended around a bull, boar, stallion, ram or stag; any animal that has newborn young with them; or any animal that is known or likely to become aggressive. Be aware that although some children may be familiar and comfortable with livestock, animals often behave unpredictably and they can cause serious injury and death. Children are also at risk of being exposed to diseases such as E. Coli when interacting with farm animals. You must restrict any interaction with animals obviously suffering from illness and make appropriate facilities for hand washing available following contact. Livestock should be appropriately penned and animals should be inaccessible to children who are unattended by an adult.
Whilst all of the potential hazards set out above pose a risk to adults as well as children, children are more easily injured or killed on farms than adults and, they are less able to assess the risks around them. Be aware that you may become oblivious to every day practices which could pose a risk to children. A risk assessment of your farm should be carried out, assessing anything that has the potential to injure a child; consider what areas on a farm might be attractive to children and obviate any related risks as far as reasonably practicable.
Health and safety is a fundamental requirement and essential component of a sustainable agricultural business. Good farmers and employers recognise the benefits of reducing incidents, injury, and ill health among their workers, visitors and residents; they are aware of the importance of aiming for and maintaining good standards of health and safety. Those working in the agriculture industry are currently facing a number of adversities which make it tempting to cut corners when it comes to health and safety measures. That being said, the personal costs of injury and ill health can be devastating. Life is never the same for those left caring for someone with a serious injury or illness or for family members sadly left behind after a fatality. Managing risks in a sensible way protects you, your family, your workforce, your business, and the general public.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.