A ‘country childhood’ has idyllic undertones but farms can be deadly places for young people, with the latest statistics showing that 10 children are killed on Australian farms each year and another 500 are hospitalised as a result of on-farm injuries.
Securely fenced house yards help to create a safe play area on farms where children can be easily observed.
Between 2001 and 2010 drowning was the leading cause of death, but figures released at the national Farmsafe Australia Conference in October 2014 show that quad bikes now share that tragic status.
For children under five years, drowning in farm dams is statistically the greatest risk, followed by runovers or falls from vehicles including cars and utes, and, more frequently today, quad bikes.
Quad bike incidents are the major cause of death for children aged between five and 14, and children visiting farms. Motorbikes (boys) and horse riding (girls) are the most common causes of hospitalising injury.
In response to these disturbing statistics, Farmsafe has mounted a public-awareness campaign calling for growers to protect Australia’s “most precious resource and the next generation of farmers” – our children.
The campaign includes a series of community-service radio announcements asking growers to create safe play areas and to stop the use of quad bikes by children.
One of the community-service announcements stresses the need for a safe play area with secure fences and gates on all farms, not just those where children are living.
Another announcement urges parents to never allow children to ride or be carried as passengers on quad bikes – which are now also the leading cause of work-related fatalities on Australian farms for adults.
The radio warnings are supported by information sheets that can be downloaded from the Farmsafe Australia website (www.farmsafe.org.au).
“We continue to have far too many incidents involving very young children and we know from the available evidence that safe play areas can make a difference,” Farmsafe Australia chair Charles Armstrong says. “While supervision is vital, it’s easy to be distracted and this can end in tragedy.”
Mr Armstrong says every farm should have a secure, safe play area – even if there are no children living on the property. “It is all too common to see young visitors being injured or worse.”
Farmsafe Australia says no one under the age of 16 should ride or be carried as a passenger on quad bikes of any size.
Child safety on farms: key recommendations
- Securely fence your house yard with self-latching, child-resistant gates.
- Construct fences from solid panels or vertical rails (without footholes for climbing).
- Fences should be at least 1.2 metres high with less than 10 centimetres ground clearance.
- Ensure the play area is located where children can be easily observed.
- Make sure the play area is shaded and interesting – include sandpits, swings, cubby houses and areas for ball play.
- Ensure supervision is close enough for a toddler to hold an adult’s hand when away from the house and yard area, and ‘keep watch’ when children are near water.
- Securely fence swimming pools and effluent ponds near the house.
- Fit lids/mesh to cover tanks, old dips, wells and water troughs.
- Learn resuscitation skills and teach your children to swim.
- Ensure children wear seatbelts in cars, utes and trucks.
- Do not allow children to ride on quad bikes, tractors or on the back of utes.
- Adopt recommendations to prevent children under 16 years from riding or travelling as a passenger on quad bikes of any size.
- Encourage children to keep clear of tractors, trucks and machinery and keep keys out of reach.
- Ensure children wear helmets, long pants and correct footwear when riding farm bikes and horses.
- Ensure children are appropriately instructed and supervised when riding/handling horses or two-wheeled motorcycles (suited to their age, size and ability).
- Regularly reinforce ‘out-of-bounds’ rules with children.
“The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and experts in child development at US and Canadian paediatrics associations say children simply do not have the developmental capacity to operate quad bikes safely,” Mr Armstrong says. “As parents and farm owners, we also have a responsibility to not carry children as passengers on quads.”
“Children represent almost one-fifth of all farm-injury deaths – a disturbing statistic that indicates more needs to be done to minimise risks,” says Associate Professor Tony Lower, director of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (ACAHS). “About two-thirds of the children fatally injured are male and about a third of all child deaths involve farm visitors.”
Associate Professor Lower says young children need to be actively supervised at all times, as children under five account for three-quarters of the children drowning in dams, creeks, troughs, dips and channels.
“It only takes five centimetres of water for a child to drown and excess water in drains and culverts can also be death traps,” he says.
Farmsafe Australia says evidence-based preventions – including safe, secure play areas, supervision, ensuring children do not ride quad bikes or travel as passengers on quad bikes or ute trays, wearing seatbelts in farm vehicles, and ensuring helmets and protective clothing are worn when riding motorcyles and horses –address more than 70 per cent of the issues.
Associate Professor Tony Lower,
02 6752 8210,
The campaign information sheets are available under ‘Education Resources’ on the farmsafe website (www.farmsafe.org.au).
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