Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Too many children get hurt

Children on UK farms are being put at needless risk through outdated legislation which prevents them from riding in the tractor cab, under supervision, so forcing parents to let them play, unsupervised, in the farm yard.

In ten years - 1998 - 2008 - 43 children and young people were killed on farms in the UK, and many more suffered injuries including amputations and serious burns, reported the HSE Agriculture expert Bernardine Cooney in 2008.

The problem needs to be addressed

She said "The messages from HSE about how to keep children safe on the farm don't change. While these tragedies are keenly felt by the families involved and throughout their local community, it is a national tragedy that they are still happening." She explains the current regulations are called Prevention of Accidents to Children in Agriculture 1998 (PACAR), and date back to duties to protect children under the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act 1956.

The Law needs to catch up

Farming practice and farm life have changed out of all recognition since 1956 and in many respects the law has failed to keep up. One of the main issues concerns children riding on tractors. Law makers and enforcers need to view the issue with fresh eyes. The reasons they give are that children can and do fall from cabs through doors that open accidentally, through rear windows and during emergencies. They say that when the driver leaves the cab children can work parking brakes and hydraulic controls, and they are a distraction to the driver at all times.

We believe the Law needs to look at the children who are excluded from the tractor. Having brought up four children on the farm,  I personally know how difficult it is to keep an eye on them and another on the job in hand - and this was some years ago so the tractors I used were smaller and had fewer blind spots. There's a constant worry of where they are playing. Are they close to a wheel, or behind an implement? In the summer, there's the anxiety that children are playing in the field, hiding from their friends or the tractor driver in the hay or straw swath? Ask many farming parent these questions and the answer is "I would prefer them in the cab with me. It's where farm youngsters want to be, and they'll behave because they don't want to be chucked out."

A thorough review needs to take place

Bernardine says: "Many of the deaths happened to younger children at work with their parents. They occurred as a consequence of work activity rather than the child doing the work themselves. The stark reason for this is simple: Children and young people are still being exposed to the same unmanaged hazards and risks."

Since 1994 Practical Farm Ideas has campaigned for a thorough review. We believe some major 'unmanaged hazards and risks' are there as a consequence of the current law. That if the laws were changed hazards and risks would be reduced.

Tragedy at Christmas

The tragic Christmas eve accident in the village of Bethlehem, Carmarthenshire involving 6 year old Dafydd Bowen, who was killed by his father's tractor, is yet another tragedy caused by the outdated safety laws which prohibit children from tractor cabs.  The strictly enforced regulations are as outdated as hand signalling when driving a car. Cars have indicators and for the past 20 years tractors have had safe, enclosed cabs which are impossible to fall off or out of, and many have passenger seats actually fitted as well. A six-year old can be safely and comfortably accommodated in any tractor cab, and is in no greater danger than in a car.

It is in fact these very cabs which create large blind spots around each wheel. These blind areas are of less concern when doing field work, but create major danger areas when the tractor is used in the yard, feeding livestock, moving bales and so on. This is the time when children are much safer in the cab than running around outside, but I believe that they are safer in the cab at almost all times.

For the past 15 years Practical Farm Ideas magazine has been running a lone campaign to get the law changed, so farmers can have children out of danger, in the cab. A proportion risk prosecution and do what they know is sensible, but many more are law abiding and each day take the risk that their youngster will be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Legislators and safety experts are blind to real farming conditions, and still seem unable to appreciate how different farms are to other industrial units. It's highly likely that many inspectors realise the   The farmhouse and farmyard and buildings are frequently together, unseparated, in one block. Children have a natural inclination to become involved. Work is seven days a week.

Official safety advice has a high negative content. Practical Farm Ideas, being run by a farmer (now retired) who brought up four children, focusses on positive advice, accessed through  Download this report

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