There are a number of key at-risk populations in agriculture, most significantly new and inexperienced workers, children and older farmers.

Target areas include:

  • Child and young people
  • Older farmers
  • Farmers with disabilities
  • Rural Indigenous Workers

Child safety on farms

Farms are great places for children to grow and develop, when we create a supportive environment, but safety for children on farms is a major concern. This led to the development of Farmsafe Australia’s Child Safety on Farms: A Framework for a National Strategy and a program of work at the Centre to address this issue.

Child Farm Injury

Approximately 20 children under 16 years are fatally injured on an Australian farm every year and many more are hospitalized or treated by General Practitioners across rural Australia.

The major causes of child deaths and injuries on farms are dams, farm vehicles, machinery, quads, motorcycles and horses. Age and developmental characteristics also place children at greater risk.

A recent study by the National Farm Injury Data Centre (NFIDC) based at the Centre found that of on-farm fatalities for the 2001-2004 period found that:

  • Children (0-14yrs) make up 15-20% of farm injury deaths, around 66% are male. Main agents are:
  • Drowning in dams (mostly under five year olds)
  • Quads
  • Farm vehicles (cars, utes)
  • Around 25% of all child deaths were visitors to the farm, but for quad bikes around 50% are visitors
  • Drowning accounts for around 35-40% on child farm deaths, with farm dams being by far the most common site.

There has been an improvement in the reduction of toddler drowning on farms in recent years – particularly a reduction of dam drownings, which have halved since the early nineties. However, drowning is still the number one cause of child farm fatality in Australia.

A common scenario is that a toddler wanders away from the home un-noticed into farm water bodies or toward other farm hazards (vehicles, mobile machinery). Apart from dams, children can find their way into creeks, troughs, dips and irrigation channels. Children under five years are at greatest risk.

For non-fatal injury of children on farms, older children (5 -15 yrs) figure more prominently – particularly in relation to injury from quads, motorbikes and and horses. Whilst there tends to be more hospital Emergency Department presentations for 2 wheeled motorbikes, injuries from quad are likely to be more severe or fatal, with 4 times as many children being killed on quads than 2 wheel motorbikes on farms (NFIDC 2007).

Priorities for Child safety on Farms

Priorities for child safety on farms developed by AgHealth and Farmsafe Australia, based on research of effective solutions (see report) are for farm families to:

  1. Have a securely fenced house yard (safe play area) for children to play, unless an adult can closely supervise them on the farm; and ensure children:
  2. Always wear seatbelts and restraints when in cars, utes and trucks
  3. Don’t ride on tractors, quads of any size or in the back of utes
  4. Always wear helmets when riding bikes and horses

Whilst these are short-list priorities, families still need to identify and address other hazards and risks specific to their farm. Controlling these risks should commence with reducing hazards and designing for safety where possible. See below for further information.

Resources

The following publications developed by the Centre relate to key child injury risks on farm and best practice safety recommendations.

A number of promotional items are also available on request, from AgHealth, such as the Horseplay poster, Child Safety on Farms Poster, Child Safety on Farms Summary Leaflet and Child Safety on Farms Fridge Magnet.

Research Reports relating to child safety can be found on the Reports and Publications page.

More about Safe Play Areas …

With drowning being the number one risk for toddlers on farms, having a secure house yard or “safe play area” with child-resistant gates and latches, is especially important. The idea is to provide an access barrier between toddlers and farm hazards – much like a pool fence does, but in reverse. Whilst it is good to aim toward pool standard fencing (Australian Standard AS 1926.1 – 2007) this may not always be possible.

The principle is to make it difficult for young children to leave the house yard without an accompanying adult. All family members and visitors need to be alert to keep the area secure as well (eg. ensure gates are kept closed). Fences themselves need to be resistant to a child climbing through or over them (eg. solid or vertical rail, no footholes, 1.2 -1.5 m high, low ground clearance).

Having an interesting yard with play items such as sandpits and open-areas for ball play, can help as well. The Safe Play Area Resource (see link above), provides good ideas for keeping kids safe, active and engaged from a child development point of view.

No supervision is perfect and there is no perfectly secure house yard fence. However, a combination of safe play areas with close and active supervision will help reduce the risk of toddler drownings and other farm injury to young children on farms and rural properties.

For further information contact:

Kerri-Lynn Peachey

Phone: 02 6882 1486

Email: kerrilynn.peachey@sydney.edu.au

Safe play areas for children

An average of five to six children drown in farm dams and water bodies each year in Australia. Most are under five years of age and a third are visitors to the farm.

The most common situation is that a toddler wanders away from supervision un-noticed, finding their way into a farm dam. They may be noticed missing only after a few minutes. A securely fenced house yard, supported by active supervision, is one of the best ways to help prevent a toddler drowning – or wandering into the path of farm vehicles and machinery.

Click on the following resources about safe play areas on farms.

Safe Play Area and other resources are available on request (email: aghealth@health.usyd.edu.au)

Further information:

Is drowning in farm dams a big problem in Australia?
  • Yes. A recent update on farm fatalities by AgHealth Australia, indicates that drowning is the main cause of death to children on farms, claiming the lives of 25 children from 2003-2006. This was 40% of all child farm deaths.
  • Farm dams alone were the most common location of drowning, responsible for over half of drowning incidents. Farm dams were also the most common single agent of fatality, out of all causes of child deaths on farms.
Who is most at risk of drowning on farms?
  • Children under five years accounted for three-quarters of children who drowned on farms. Apart from dams, younger children also drowned in creeks, troughs, dips and channels. Toddlers often wandered away from the home un-noticed.
  • 84% of children who drowned on farms (2003-2006) were male. Around a third were visitors to the farm.
Is this any different to other years?
  • Less children drown in farm dams during 2003-2006 than in the early nineties. Whilst 13 children drowned in dams from 2003-2006, 33 children drowned in dams between 1989-92.
Are there more recent statistics on drowning in farm dams than 2003-2006?

ACAHS compiles data using the National Coronial Information System (NCIS). However, determining whether an incident occurs on farm or not, means going through every individual case. Due to the “investigative” nature of cases, some files are not definitive for a number of years. That is why there is a time lag on reliable “on-farm” cases.

It is possible to get an idea of more recent on-farm drowning cases, through media reports. Media reports from 2007 to mid 2010 suggest that at least another ten children have drowned on farms over that time. However, locations of incidents are not always clear from media articles – and some incidents are not reported in the media at all. Media reports, whilst more recent, tend to under-estimate the true number of drowning incidents on farms.

What can farmers do to prevent children drowning in farm dams?

Having a securely fenced house yard or “safe play area” with child-resistant gates and latches, is a key recommendation for preventing toddlers drowning on farms – endorsed by the Australian Water Safety Plan and major water safety agencies such as RLSSA, Kids Alive and Kidsafe.

Recent research from ACAHS indicates that only around one-half of farms have a fenced house yard secure enough to prevent a toddler wandering away without an adult. This proportion is even less in some regions.

A fenced house yard or safe play area, will help prevent unsupervised access to farm hazards such as dams and other farm hazards. Farm families need to ensure young children stay in this safe play area unless an adult is available to take them out and closely supervise them.

A fenced house yard helps make supervision that much easier. The idea is to provide an access barrier between toddlers and farm hazards – much like a pool fence does, but in reverse. Whilst not always possible, it is good to aim toward pool standard (AS 1926.1–2007).

The principle is to make it difficult for young children to leave the house yard without an adult. Fences themselves need to be resistant to a child climbing through or over them (e.g. solid or vertical rail, no footholes, 1.2-1.5 m high, low ground clearance).

All family members and visitors need to be alert to keep the area safe and secure as well (eg. ensure gates are kept closed). Having an interesting yard with play items such as sandpits and open-areas for ball play, can help as well.

How else can we prevent drowning on farms?

It is advisable to check for other water hazards near the house – and eliminate access to these where possible. This might include covering old tanks and dips, placing mesh in water troughs – and fencing backyard pools.

Supervision, when out and about on the farm, needs to be close and active enough for a toddler to “hold my hand”. This is consistent with the advice of major early childhood and water safety agencies. In addition, water familiarization and teaching children to swim from an early age is advisable. Learning resuscitation skills is also a water safety essential.

What about preventing other sorts of child injury on farms?

Drowning accounts for around 40% of child farm deaths, with dams the most common water body. In fact, dams alone were responsible for 21% of all child farm deaths. After dams, quad bikes (13%) and farm vehicles (13%) were the next most common agents of child fatality on farms (2003-2006). For quad bikes, (riders and passengers) – one third were under five years of age; and for farm vehicles (cars-utes), half were under five years of age.

Four times as many children were killed off quad bikes than two wheel motorbikes on farms. Research suggests this is because riders / passengers are more likely to be pinned under an upturned quad bike, sustaining chest or abdominal crush injuries.

A fenced house yard or safe play area, can also help prevent young children wandering away unsupervised into the farm workplace, the path of vehicles and machinery too. For children of all ages, Farmsafe recommends farm families adopt the following child safety practices on their farm, as a matter of priority:

  • Always ensure children wear seatbelts in cars, utes and trucks
  • Do not allow children to ride on tractors, quad bikes or on the back or utes, and
  • Always ensure children wear helmets riding farm bikes and horses.

For more information and resources on child farm safety, select Child Safety on left toolbar or call ACAHS on 02 6882 1486.