Taking the stress out of child safety on farm

This topic will be discussed as part of our online Bonfires on February 10th at 7:30pm, “Child Safety on Farm” with Jessie Adams and Amity Latham (NCFH).

Matt and Susie are beef and sheep producers from North East Victoria. They both grew up farming and are really active in the outdoor work of farming, but had been struck by how many families in their district had been affected by farm accidents, some of which involved young kids.

“My mate’s young son had an accident which had left him seriously incapacitated, so that was always front of mind for me”, Matt said.

Susie continued, “We have three kids now, but right from the day we brought our first baby home to the farm we were aware that we wanted to make his childhood a safe one whilst making the most of this amazing farm we live on.”

“We were always big on supervision of the kids and in those early years, giving them a fantastic fenced play area next to the house, so they wanted to be there. Being able to call on my in-laws to help supervise the kids during really busy periods on the farm was really helpful in those early years. Sometimes we hired an extra worker, or took the work in shifts, just so we weren’t leaving kids to their own devices or leaving them to play in a zone where there were too many risks. At shearing time, we made a safe enclosed area in a corner of the shed for the kids to play where they couldn’t get into strife.”

Matt added, “I changed my quad bike to a side by side so we could have safer transport around around the farm, but I’ll only do jobs I can do in the ute when I have the kids with me, and I am nuts about booster seats and seatbelts in the twincab.”

“We often have other families and relatives visit our farm and we are really careful about safety, especially over summer when all the kids love to swim in the river. We made sure the kids could swim and I even pulled out the old lifeguard shirt and popped it on to remind me that I was taking responsibility here – for my kids and theirs! Teenagers think this is pretty un-cool now, but they know the rules.”

Susie (the ex-teacher turned farmer) tells me that “when the oldest of our three kids was 6 we made a game out of doing a safety audit around the farm with all the kids in school holidays. It was really fun and the kids loved it. We played “spot the hazard” identifying risks with things like machinery, animals in the yards, stuff in the shed, farm vehicles, etc. The kids made signs about where they were and were NOT allowed to go. We had rules about what age you had to be to do certain tasks, and we stuck to them pretty much”.

“The funny side of having these on-going safety conversations with your kids is that if you forget to do something properly, like wear your seat belt or a dust mask, or tidy up the workshop, they pick you up on it straight away. So our kids really started taking responsibility for their own safety and their younger siblings. We’ve done online shopping together on the Farmer Health Safety Shop to make sure they have the right PPE for working on the farm for the tasks they do. It makes them feel like we value their contribution. And these days there are some pretty kid-friendly safety products available.”

“From our point of view as parents, our workplace is also our family home – and the boundaries can get a bit blurred at times. But having rules gives us a sense of control and some peace of mind. We love living on the farm, it’s a great lifestyle, but the farm is not always suited to being a playground.”

Matt acknowledged, “Of course as the kids get older the rules change. I have to make sure that each kid understands how to do a task safely if they are going to be working with me. I have to set aside more time to ensure they are competent and can manage equipment safely. Inevitably, there have been some minor incidents, but thankfully nothing major, and the kids have learned more about their own capabilities, how to assess risk, and to stick to the agreed rules.”

“Our kids are now in high school and we are delighted that they want to do some of the Agriculture electives where they will be taught how to do some of the key farming tasks safely by the TAFE teachers, because learning a farm safety mentality from people other than Mum and Dad is fantastic and builds on the foundations we have laid at home.”

Susie added “Our older child recently did a program at school called GearUp for Ag Health and Safety run by National Centre for Farmer Health. We sure had some interesting conversations around the dinner table that week. They were proud of how much they knew.”

Injuries on the farm can lead to stress, long-term health concerns and loss of income or even fatalities, so preventing them from happening is the best way of protecting your mental health. When it comes to running the family farm, investing in mental health initiatives is not only good for your family and workers, but it’s good for business too. The NCFH is supporting farmers just like you to manage and respond to work-related risks that impact on workplace mental health – these are factors in your work that can affect an employee’s mental health and include high job demands, low job control, low role clarity and more. Managing these factors, means decreasing the risk of work-related stress, which can prevent physical injury, mental injury or even both at the same time.
Find out more about being mentally safe on farm at www.farmerhealth.org.au/campfire.

This blog is part of the Primary Producer Knowledge Network led by the National Centre for Farmer Health to promote mentally healthy workplaces. Campfire, part of The Primary Producer Knowledge Network, is funded by the Victorian State Governments WorkSafe WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.

You can join the online bonfire session, “Child Safety on Farm” on November 17 at 12:30pm or 7:30pm to hear from Jessie Adams (NCFH) and Brooke Greig (Hesse Rural Health)

*Primary producers featuring in this blog are fictional, but based on research interviews with farmers, and developed with the assistance of the National Centre for Farmer Health