Children and public safety
What you need to know...
Every year children are killed during agricultural work activities.
People often believe that farm children understand farm risks, but most children who die in farm incidents are family members. A few straightforward steps, and proper supervision of children, will reduce these risks.
Other members of the public may also be at risk, eg when using public rights of way through fields containing cattle and calves.
What you need to do...
It is against the law to allow a child under 13 to ride on or drive agricultural self-propelled machines (such as tractors) and certain other farm machinery. The law also requires that employers make sure their risk assessment for young people under the age of 18 takes full account of their inexperience, immaturity and lack of awareness of relevant risks.
The key issues are:
- What you need to know
- Children – driving or operating farm machinery
- Carrying passengers on farm machinery
- The risks from animals
- The risks in the workplace
- Gates and wheels
- Stacks of hay and straw
- Grain bins
- Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions
Children – driving or operating farm machinery
The law says that no child under 13 may drive or ride on tractors and other self-propelled machines used in agriculture.
Before allowing children over 13 to operate a tractor, certain conditions must be met. We describe these in full in HSE's free leaflet Preventing accidents to children on farms.
Children under 16 must not drive, operate, or help to operate, any of the following:
- towed or self-propelled harvesters and processing machines;
- trailers or feed equipment with conveying, loading, unloading or spreading mechanisms;
- power-driven machines with cutting, splitting, or crushing mechanisms or power-operated soil-engaging parts;
- chemical applicators such as mounted, trailed or knapsack sprayers;
- handling equipment such as lift trucks, skid steer loaders or all-terrain vehicles.
Carrying passengers on farm machinery
It is illegal to carry children under 13 in the cab of an agricultural vehicle and it is unsafe. Children can and do:
- fall from the doorway or the rear window;
- interfere with the operator's control of the vehicle;
- distract the operator or unintentionally operate controls, eg the parking brake or hydraulics, when the operator leaves the cab, eg to open a gate.
If you carry children or adults on trailers (eg for farm visits, 'pick-your-own') ensure that:
- the trailer is in good condition with all safety devices working;
- you provide seating and secured it the trailer. Well-made bales, if properly secured, may be adequate;
- you fit guard rails around the trailer edges;
- you arrange safe mounting and dismounting;
- you make sure children are supervised by a responsible adult.
If you have to leave machinery in an area accessed by members of the public, make sure you leave it in a safe condition:
- remove the keys;
- lock the cab;
- leave the controls in neutral;
- lower foreloaders to the ground; and
- apply the parking brake or chock the wheels.
Make sure that contractors and visiting drivers have clearly defined directions on where to park, load and unload and where to wait. This is particularly important if you are aware of public access routes across yards or if the delivery zone is adjacent to the farmhouse.
The risks from animals
Animals do not need to attack to pose a danger to people:
- A 'playful' bull, cow, sheep or pig can kill or severely injure.
- Veterinary medicines and application equipment can cause ill health.
- Diseases can be passed from animals to humans.
Check that children or other members of the public:
- cannot enter any yard or pen etc occupied by potentially dangerous animals. Remember that female animals, especially those with young, can kill or injure anyone, including children;
- do not have access to or use any form of chemicals or veterinary medicines and products, eg hypodermic syringes. Lock them away;
- do not look after animals or poultry without competent supervision.
Normally, you will not be required to provide PPE to children or members of the public visiting your farm. If PPE is required for young workers this should be appropriate to the task, eg a suitable riding hat.
Remember, if you have fields with rights of way or other permitted public access, make sure:
- you do not keep bulls of recognised dairy breeds in fields with footpaths;
- you assess the temperament of any cattle kept in fields with public access, and remove from the group any with a history of aggression, or that may be aggressive because of illness, young calves etc;
- if you keep beef stock bulls in such fields, that they are accompanied by female stock and you put up suitable signs;
- you consider whether it is reasonably practicable to temporarily fence rights of way so that cattle cannot access them.
The risks in the workplace
Farms are not playgrounds. Remember that children are naturally curious, and will often get into apparently inaccessible places. Make sure you exclude them from potentially dangerous areas, such as:
- chemical stores;
- slurry pits and lagoons (which may falsely appear safe to walk on);
- reservoirs or sheep dips (which are often isolated);
- grain intake pits and grain bins;
- machinery or building maintenance work.
To deter access to these areas:
- use fencing, such as pig netting topped with two strands of barbed wire, to an overall height of at least 1.3 m.
- sheet gates or make them impossible to climb;
- padlock gates;
- use grids (with a maximum aperture space of 62 mm); or
- use solid covers that will not move or give way if children stray onto them.
- keep children away from yards or places with vehicle movements and make sure they are returned to a responsible adult if they stray into transport areas.
- make sure everyone working on the farm is aware that children may be present.
- explain that you are authorised to stop work if any children are in the work area and to send them somewhere safe.
- keep tools and work equipment secured.
For further information on managing the risks from slurry please see Managing slurry on farms.
Gates and wheels
Children may be tempted to climb on gates or wheels. Check that gates are properly erected and will not topple. Store flat or firmly secure upright any tractor wheels or gates not in use.
Stacks of hay or straw
Other areas, too, attract children. Stacks of hay or straw appear ideal for making dens in, but they can collapse or catch fire, killing those under or on top of them. Always:
- store ladders safely where children cannot get at them;
- make sure there is no evidence of children burrowing under stacks;
- keep matches in a safe place.
Grain bins also seem inviting places in which to play, until the grain begins to flow out and the child is drawn into the grain and drowns. Make sure children cannot get into bins, and check they are not in the store before starting machinery.