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Farm related accidents are the third greatest cause of child accident fatalities in Northern Ireland after road traffic accidents and house fires, which is not surprising given the rural nature of the province. The Rural Development Council for Northern Ireland provided the Child Accident Prevention Trust with funding to examine some issues regarding children's safety on farms. Through focus groups and a series of questionnaires with children (aged 10–18 years), their parents and some professional workers, we built up a fairly comprehensive picture of hazards in the rural environment.
Aspects of local farms which parents felt posed particular problems included open slurry pits and lagoons, keys being left in tractors, heavy goods vehicles in farmyards which have poor view at ground level, children's access to machinery, silo pits, and derelict buildings. However, for all the parents, general road safety issues in the countryside caused more concern than the possibility of an injury on their own farm.
Only 7.8% of the children (33 out of 423) recalled having had an accident on the farm with half of these children resident on farms. Although injuries recalled were slightly higher in the girls than to boys (54% and 42% respectively), boys were much more likely to have an injury which involved the use of tractors and machinery. Children consistently mentioned heavy machinery, bulls, slurry pits, and lagoons as the main causes of farm injuries, in that order of priority. More than half (59%) thought that farm accidents were more likely than accidents in other occupations. Two reasons why they felt that accidents happen to young people are because “they mess about and try to be cool” or “being left to do something alone”. The children chose the use of TV as the priority method of preventing farm accidents, followed closely by classes in school time, and parents setting good examples.
A comprehensive checklist was produced as part of the study which farmer's wives felt would be a new and useful way to educate farming families about potential hazards on their farms. This will require modification in order to make it more suitable for specific types of farming, as a generic checklist will have items not appropriate to all farms.
An overwhelming majority (94%) of the children who did not live on farms had visited a farm, often staying over with school friends. Also, 26% of the boys who did not live on farms often worked on them. A recommendation of the report was the development of school based curriculum materials to include all children in the educational process, and not just those living on farms.
There was great discrepancy between children, parents, and professional workers with regard to the appropriate age at which children could be allowed to do a range of tasks. For example, in the task of cleaning cowsheds, boys said 9 years, girls 11, fathers 11, mothers 12, and professionals 14. This aspect of the study raises the question “Are professional workers deliberately advising a high age in order to cover themselves from any potential liability, rather than seeking out sound information on the elements of risk in certain tasks?” One parent stated that we need to “educate adults not to allow children to do jobs which are really too difficult”. As children will continue to undertake tasks on the family farm, further work in risk assessment is needed if we are to be able to advise on appropriateness of tasks.