Growing up on a farm can be a fun, enriching experience. Farm kids have an environment and means to play, work, and develop in ways that their city counterparts can only imagine. But the benefits of farm life come with risks that may not be fully appreciated by the younger set. Physical, chemical, and biohazards are facts of life on the farm that can put children at risk if proper safety practices and supervision are not in place.

The sobering reality is that children with agricultural backgrounds, versus those without, are far more likely to sustain a severe injury. And while a majority of casualties are work-related, children aren’t necessarily performing a farm task when an accident occurs. According to Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting (CAIR), 13% of all Canadian agriculture-related deaths from 2003-2012 were children of farm owners or operators.

Child safety is top of mind for all parents. You can help prevent the most common types of farm accidents which involve children with the following six tips:

1. Create a designated play area in your farmyard. Reduce risk by creating a safe play area that limits your child’s exposure to hazards. Choose a carefully planned location with physical boundaries (a fence, gate, or shrubs) and add age-appropriate play equipment. Teach your child safety fundamentals and establish rules, including which areas are are off-limits.

2. Do not permit children to play or ride on farm equipment. Every piece of machinery on a farm has the potential to cause serious injury to a child. There were 149 agriculture-related runover fatalities in Canada from 2003-2012 (CAIR, 2016). Of the 31 bystanders who were run over, one-third were children between one and nine years of age.

All kids are at risk when they operate farm machinery, but younger children are more susceptible to being struck by farm equipment. Children can easily fall from farm equipment that’s being run by an adult—particularly upon startup—or be injured if the operator is unaware that a child is nearby.

3. Make grain bins and confined work areas out-of-bounds to children. Crushed grain is unstable and can easily collapse. Containers and wagons with flowing grain can trap and pull a child under within seconds. Identify all confined spaces such as grain bins and silos, pesticide and fertilizer storage facilities, bodies of water, and manure pits, and make them off-limits to your child. Install a fence or barricade, if possible, to prevent your child from accessing these areas. 

4. Keep children away from animals in livestock-handling areas. Most children love animals, but regardless of how good-natured an animal is, its temperament can change if it feels threatened. Farm animals can kick, crush, scratch, or bite if not handled correctly; cattle can easily knock down or trample a child. Teach your children how to interact safely with farm animals, and if they ride horses, ensure they have the proper gear and supervision to stay safe.

Livestock afflicted with bacterial or viral infections can also pose a serious health risk to humans. Preventative measures such as putting diseased animals in quarantine and seeking further direction from a veterinarian should be implemented at the first signs of a problem. Educate your children to avoid animals that they suspect are ill. 

5. Store farm pesticides and chemicals out of children’s reach. Keep pesticides and chemicals in a locked cabinet or room, stored in their original containers with correct labels. Properly dispose of containers or unused amounts, keeping them away from areas where your child may frequent. Also, consider establishing age requirements for entry into barns or storage buildings. 

6. Teach awareness from a young age by setting a good example. Adults—particularly those who grew up on a farm themselves—recognize the importance of teaching their children farm safety. Websites, such as the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, offer a range of useful farm safety resources.

Remember that every child is different. Always adjust tasks based on a day-to-day assessment of your child’s abilities, explaining and enforcing the safety aspects of each job. Train your child appropriately, but keep their maturity, level of development, experience, and limitations in mind. The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association has resources that can help you determine appropriate activities for youth working in agriculture.

Some parents believe that exposing their children to farming culture from an early age is beneficial.  Parents gain an opportunity to instill their kids with strong work ethics, a sense of responsibility, and a feeling of pride in their agricultural heritage.

Most importantly, by involving their children in farm work, parents can gain a chance to teach tasks gradually, and in a safe manner. After all, children imitate what they see. You can set the best example for your child by working and staying safe.

For more safety tips from our Cowan experts, check out Farm Equipment Road Safety and  Barn Fire Prevention. To talk to an expert about insuring your farm or agribusiness, contact us via email, or call us toll-free at 1-866-912-6926.

To learn more about how we can help protect your farm, visit our agribusiness page.