Farming with children - How to do it safely
“Farm kids are the next generation so it's important to keep them safe. #tomorrowsleaders”
– Graham Neate, Safe and Boots
Farming offers a unique environment and wonderful opportunities for children/adolescents to learn, grow, develop in and to learn the value of hard work and responsibilities. Traditionally we have seen farming as a 'family affair' with parents, children and grandchildren by the generations, learning and passing on the skills of our land.
With the changes to our now not so typical farming communities, we are seeing people from all sorts of backgrounds bring their skills into our agricultural industry, from city slickers to foreigners - looking for a better life or a new career. With this we often loose the common sense that comes with being raised on a farm, meaning more training in Health and Safety needs to become a priority.
Our health and safety culture needs to change, we need to embrace it, “Everyone comes home at night to their families” should be just as important as your monthly cash flow.
This conversation could go off on many angles, but I’d like to blog in the direction of the subject of 'Children on Farms'
“Children are essential to farming family life and it was important this tradition continued, but risks need to be assessed.” - WorkSafe
You see, no one is saying you cannot have children anywhere on farm, what they are trying to do is educate, and change our attitude towards health and safety culture on farm. Children and their parents need to be aware of the risks farms present and work to manage those risks. Managing the risks for children is different from managing them for adults.
My partner and I started contract milking 350 cows with our first child; 10 month old baby boy, Oliver. Being self-Employed we cut staff and did the hard yards ourselves, with Oliver tagging along. As if cooking, cleaning, administration, calf rearing and milking wasn’t enough on my plate! But we did it. Problem is, we didn’t do it safely.
Back then we didn’t wear helmets. We got the cows in with the 1 year old sitting in front of us where he usually slumped over and fell asleep. He used to play in the yard while I hosed down, with the effluent pond that was only fenced with two wires just 4 metres away. He sat in front seat of the Ute while we drove the calfateria around feeding calves.
You see, one thing I notice when I go to discussion groups is honesty and open discussions start happening on how we used to do things, what we do differently now and what we learned. We share stories to help others not make the same mistakes but on social media we don’t say much for fear of being ripped into by keyboard warriors. Which is sad considering the world changes in leaps and bounds with the help of these types of communication.
I put my hand up in a group and said I would drive around with my young one in the front seat of the ute. One day I slammed the breaks and his head hit the dash board Man I felt like the worst mother! This was 5+ years ago - but I learned from it. I went and got a second hand and not flash, but safe, carseat and buckled him in, in the backseat, along with lunch box, drawing books etc.
From that conversation others spoke up about their mistakes, One lady told me how she drove her quad down a straight track on the farm and hit a hidden pothole, her son, whom was sitting in front of her on the quad seat, flew off and broke his collarbone. That week they had won the health and safety NZDIA merit.
It was an open conversation, honest, raw on how even the best can make mistakes.
So let’s be honest and be open and learn and grow. Show each other how you do things better on your farm, and why. Give out your tips, these are not million dollar secrets. I love sharing H&S info for free because I can’t put a price on saving a life.
I no longer take my kids on the bikes, I put car seats in the Hilux and take them out in that, I use the gator or we walk. We have High-Vis clothing to be safe and be seen. We have speed signs, children signs, we talk to our kids about health and safety, about trucks and bikes, animals and bulls, water troughs and dead holes.
Be open with your children - they absorb a lot more information than you think.
We set up an area in the dairy shed office where the kids can write, draw, eat and IPad their life away while we milk. When they are older and can ride their own motor bike they can come out and help get cows in or hose the yard etc.
When we take them in the tractor, there is a seat with a seat belt, but we don’t take them on the hills - just on the flats when we are doing basic jobs. They come out and feed calves, so I tell them how a calf can be dangerous and can kick them and show them where to walk.
I get off my cellphone (Facebook!!) so I’m paying attention to them and the surrounding areas, but I also love taking pictures. I talk to staff and I talk to their kids. I give them Worksafe information and activities about farm safety like the Farmlands 'Spot the hazards' printable (Thanks Graham Neate and Worksafe for the information!)
I will even supply my workers kids with high vis-vest. I constantly look at ways I can improve situations, health and safety is a living document and children are forever growing, changing, learning, listening, looking, getting adventurous and wanting to push boundaries.
Show your kids a farm map, teach them the safe areas, and the no go zones, make sure they are dressed warm and protected. Take spare clothes, do a little preparation (lunches etc).We now have a 2.5, 5 and 7 year old. They all love to come out on farm. And they can.
Legal Stuff: You can’t turn a blind eye to it; you should already have Health and Safety systems set up on farms, including policies, procedures, training, and contracts including rules around children. Under the new Health and Safety laws everyone is responsible, from the shareholders/owners to the managers, contractors and other employees. If you put a policy in place to always wear a helmet and provide one, but your farm assistant doesn’t and has an accident then they can be the ones to get in trouble, as long as you have implemented and not ignored bad behaviour. Go as far as written warnings. Same comes into play with children, if you catch a staff member with their child on the front of their bike and this is a rule/policy, you must act on the problem, through education, warnings or even you may say that their children are banned from the farm if they cannot respect the health and safety procedures, you can use the law in this way to protect yourself.
Don’t burn yourself out, it is the biggest contribution to accidents on farms, a lapse in judgement, a split second can be fatal. We farmers, both men and woman can get rather burnt out especially over calving, you can make some adjustments to try and better these situations, for example with meal prep, have the kids bags, lunches ready that night for the morning, Maybe treat yourself to a cleaner so you come home and relax a bit more at night. Get an Au Pair or family member to lend a hand, we live far from family but I’m very blessed that my mother can come and help with the children over calving.
Don’t be afraid to ring Worksafe for advice they don’t bite and they are free, there are also other excellent organisations you can employ to help you with H&S policies.
One area I am a bit fussy about especially with packed lunches on farms, is Children can get animal (zoonotic) diseases. With a water bottle I wash my kids hands before the eat. I also try to make an effort to keep the cab tidy, including being clear of farm gear, medicines, needles, stray bullets etc, I don’t get it perfect but - I TRY.
Most Importantly “Adult supervision is vital. For young children it needs to be close and active.” Another area that should be actioned is storing dangerous farm chemicals away, locked up, out of children’s reach. This includes vet drugs, dairy shed chemicals etc.
Here are some further links to check out:
- Louise Wallace from Let Them Be Seen for some badass Hi-Vis kiddie’s shirts (pictured)
- Talk to Worksafe
- Signs – You can get these from many Ag-Stores, these can be ordered in, customized, also check out Trademe or H&S stores.
- Talk to other farmers/mums
- Graham Neate is a wealth of knowledge you can stalk him on twitter at Safe n Boots
- @NeateGraham, you can also follow me on Twitter @DairyCowQueen
- Farming Mums NZ – ask away for hints, tips and tricks.
Follow the links:
Farmlands “Spot the hazards Work Sheet”
I hope I didn’t cause you all to fall asleep, or get dizzy from too much eye rolling. In fact if you have a know-it-all attitude that is fantastic, its saying your already actively doing something about this. I do hope everyone found something to take away from this wee rambling blog.
Bye for now!
Both my partner and I are 32, about to be married in March after 10 patient years of waiting. We have three beautiful-Drive us up the wall–full of energy farming kids. Born and home birthed on farm, it’s all they have known. Currently in Southland contract milking an 850 cow dairy farm. I’ve recently written a blog for FarmStrong as I have lost 20kgs and getting healthier has made such a difference physically and emotionally to my life. Having a brother who has committed suicide I believe we need to open up about mental stress on farms. Feel free to follow me on twitter @DairyCowQueen