Are children on farms at increased risk of injury?
Farms are very unique environments, as they are both a workplace and home to many Australian families. Growing up on a farm is unlike most other childhoods, largely due to parents involving, and often depending on, their children to be farm helpers. Child farm safety is important as we want children to grow up learning and engaging in farming. However, we do not want to see any child get hurt.
There are many factors that may contribute to children’s increased risk of experiencing farm-related injury. Some of these include; children’s development level and exposure to dangerous environments, multi-generational farming families and the dependence on children’s assistance with tasks on the farm, the lack of workplace regulations, the risk-taking culture within farming communities, competing financial priorities, lack of supervision and use of safe play areas, poor understanding and use of the hierarchy of control (1).
How common are child farm-related injuries?
To set the scene, the agriculture industry in Australia experiences the highest rate of workplace fatalities per number of workers (2). Adding children to this already hazardous environment further increases the chances of injury.
Children under the age of 15 years represent 15% of all farm-related deaths in Australia. Unfortunately, this rate has remained consistent over a long period of time (at least 20 years), despite efforts to reduce them.
Our knowledge on the number of children injured on farms (non-fatal), is not as well understood, however, a report by the Australian Institute of Health (3) identified over 2,000 children under 15 were hospitalised due to farm-related injuries between 2010/11 to 2014/15. This is 9% of all farm-related injury hospitalisations.
What are the common hazards causing these injuries?
The main hazards responsible for child farm-related deaths are water bodies (eg. dams, troughs, tanks, and creeks), quad bikes and motorbikes, utes/cars, tractors and horses. There are obviously many other things present on farms that can cause injury to children, such as; animals, chemicals, machinery, firearms, noise, electricity, heights, mowers, chainsaws.
What can you do to keep your children safe on the farm?
Now that children are transitioning back to school, and parents and guardians hopefully have some more time on there hands, it might be a great opportunity to get the family together and do a safety audit or walk around and discuss the hazards and what can be done to reduce the risks. This is also important to do if you are expecting child visitors.
Farming hazards are different from farm to farm, as well as differing between children (eg. age, developmental stage). Some key considerations to keep children safe on farms:
- Toddlers and small children (typically under 5 years):
- Constant active supervision – it is important that an adult should be within sight, sound and reach of the child.
- Safe play areas – create a physical barrier (at least 1.2m meters high) that prevents your child from entering dangerous environments. Adding interesting things like a sandpit or toys can assist in entertaining your child.
- Young children are curious and have no understanding of the dangers around them. Therefore, a combination of constant active supervision and safe play areas are recommended as great strategies to keep your young child safe.
- Young children (5 to 9 years):
- Young children are starting to be able to understand basic rules and wanting to become more independent.
- Constant active supervision is still required.
- As children start to engage with tasks on the farm, it is important they are developmentally appropriate, both physically and mentally(e.g. feeding baby animals)
- When children are on the farm, appropriate safety measures should be in place (e.g. wearing high Vis vests, helmets, rules).
- Potentially can still use safe play areas.
- Older children and young teenagers (10 to 14 years):
- Typically older children want to prove themselves as being capable.
- Supervision is still required.
- Ensuring children are still only completing developmentally appropriate tasks. Additionally, ensuring appropriate training/explanation of tasks and potential hazards present is important.
- Use of appropriate safety measures and ensure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is correctly fitting
Throughout all these ages, constant open communication about farm safety is vital.
Using the hierarchy of control could be a way to reduce the risks for everyone on your farm – https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/hierarchy-control
How can I help the NCFH make a difference to child safety on farms?
We are conducting a study to investigate children’s exposure to occupational risk on farms to ultimately reduce injury rates.
We are asking farming parents and children (aged 5 to 14 years) to assist by completing our study. Parents will be asked to first complete the survey, then a link will be sent asking for your child to assist by completing the survey.
Please find the link to the survey here: Injury risk and safety behaviours of children on Victorian farms | National Centre for Farmer Health
This article was written by Jessie Adams, who is conducting this survey. Jessie’s contact details are:
1. Adams J, Kennedy A, Cotton J, Brumby S. Child Farm-Related Injury in Australia: A Review of the Literature International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021;18(11):1-16.
2. Safe Work Australia. Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities, Australia Canberra: Safe Work Australia; 2019.
3. Henley G, Harrison J. Hospitalised farm injury, Australia, 2010-11 to 2014-15 Canberra: AIHW Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Flinders University 2018.