Farm Safety: Why are children still dying on farms?

The first week of July was particularly deadly for children who grow up on farms. A 15-year-old girl, Iris Goldsmith, who came from one of the wealthiest families in Britain, was killed on 8 July after the ATV she was riding in with her friend overturned on the family farm in Wiltshire.

Her father, Ben Goldsmith – an environmentalist and non-executive board member at Defra – tweeted: “Dear God, please can I have my beautiful, brilliant, kind little girl back, please God.

“And if not, please take extra special care of her. I love her so so much and I’m so proud of her. It hurts me so much I can’t describe.”

He later told the Daily Mail: “I just can’t get my head round the enormity of what’s happened – it’s just so unfair. I’m feeling desperate, like I can’t breathe most of the time.”

On the same day, a four-year-old boy died in another accident on the farm where he lived.

Lancashire Police said Harry Lee was killed when he fell from a vehicle and was struck by a telehandler.

Harry’s family said he was the “light of our lives” who “never failed to melt hearts wherever he went, with his cheeky smile and laughter.

“Harry was born and brought up on a farm and loved the outdoor lifestyle. His passion was tractors and animals. He could name every brand and type of tractor in the area by sight and loved to feed and look after the animals.”

These two deaths of children – and the despair of their families – happened in the same week the Health & Safety Executive published its annual statistics on fatal accidents in the workplace. The figures showed, yet again, that agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury (per 100,000) of the main industrial sectors.

Farms are the most dangerous place to work and live, and agricultural work has a fatal injury rate eighteen times as high as the average rate across all industries.

32 farm workers and seven members of the public, including two children, lost their lives on GB farms in 2018/2019 according to the latest HSE Fatal Injuries in Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing report.

While UK farmers are among the best in the world, farming remains our country’s most hazardous industries; accounting for 1% of workers but 22% of all worker fatalities, according to the Farm Safety Foundation.

There has been a concerted push to improve farm safety in recent years, through initiatives such as Farm Safety Week, which ran through the second week of July, and the Yellow Wellies campaign, which aims to educate young people on farms about safety. In addition, the Farm Safety Foundation, a charity established in 2014 by NFU Mutual, publishes comprehensive guidance and information about ways to reduce the risks. The Health & Safety Executive also publishes a wealth of information about the dangers present on every farm, and how to avoid preventable accidents.

But despite all these schemes, accidents and deaths are continuing to occur too often. As Stuart Roberts, deputy president of the NFU, put in in a tweet to mark the start of Farm Safety Week on XX July: “Changing our farm safety record is not the responsibility of organisations, HSE or ‘someone else’. Every single person who owns, works, lives or visits a farm has a responsibility to identify risks, reduce risks & promote a safer environment.

“As I look round the industry I love I think it’s very inspiring that we‘re talking more about health & safety. However, talk alone will not save lives. Make it your mission this week to do something that will make every farm safer 52 weeks a year.”

So, what can you do to make your farm a safer place to work and live?

Children and public safety – advice from the Health & Safety Executive

What you need to know…

Every year children are killed during agricultural work activities.

People often believe that farm children understand farm risks, but most children who die in farm incidents are family members. A few straightforward steps, and proper supervision of children, will reduce these risks.

What you need to do…

It is against the law to allow a child under 13 to ride on or drive agricultural self-propelled machines (such as tractors) and certain other farm machinery. The law also requires that employers make sure their risk assessment for young people under the age of 18 takes full account of their inexperience, immaturity and lack of awareness of relevant risks.

Carrying passengers on farm machinery

It is illegal to carry children under 13 in the cab of an agricultural vehicle and it is unsafe. Children can and do:

  • fall from the doorway or the rear window;
  • interfere with the operator’s control of the vehicle;
  • distract the operator or unintentionally operate controls, eg the parking brake or hydraulics, when the operator leaves the cab, eg to open a gate.

Check that children or other members of the public:

  • do not have access to or use any form of chemicals or veterinary medicines and products, eg hypodermic syringes. Lock them away;
  • do not look after animals or poultry without competent supervision.

Grain bins

Grain bins also seem inviting places in which to play, until the grain begins to flow out and the child is drawn into the grain and drowns. Make sure children cannot get into bins, and check they are not in the store before starting machinery.


Working at height – advice from the Farm Safety Foundation

Avoid roof work or work at height maintaining buildings. Do as much as you can from the ground e.g. use extending equipment to clear gutters.

Avoid doing the work yourself. Use a professional contractor with the knowledge, skills, equipment and experience to safely work at height on buildings.

If you do need to work at height, make sure the work is planned and carried out by people with the right training and the safest equipment for the job. For example, trained and experienced people using a mobile elevating work platform or scaffold.

DO NOT be tempted to use the wrong equipment. Being lifted on the forks or bucket of a telehandler is ILLEGAL!

Make sure you are aware of your surroundings. Eg. Overhead power lines, uneven floors, soft ground

Be safe – make sure all equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job and checked regularly

If you are using a ladder follow the 1 in 4 rule (i.e. 1 unit out for every 4 units up)

ALWAYS maintain 3 points of contact with the ladder to ensure stability

Make sure you don’t overload or overreach when working at height.

Health & Safety Executive statistics for fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain 2018/19

Transport was the biggest killer in agriculture.

Figures published in the Health and Safety Executive’s report ‘Fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain 2018/19′ show 39 people were killed as a result of farming and other agriculture-related activities during the year.

Transport – overturning vehicles or being struck by moving vehicles – caused most deaths.

Agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury (per 100,000) of the main industrial sectors. It is eighteen times as high as the average rate across all industries.

Nearly half of the agricultural workers killed were over 60.

Two young children were killed.

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