One of the consequences of COVID 19 has been the closure of schools across the UK - which means more children at home.
A working farm can be a hazardous environment at any time: by its very nature, agricultural work may involve heavy machinery; contact with animals; work at height; or moving vehicles.
COVID 19 of course brings its own risks, and the requirement of measures such as social distancing and hand washing. But with more children and young people at home, there is also an increased risk of accidents and injury arising from the normal work of the farm, whether they are helping with the business or simply present.
In response, HSE issued an Agriculture eBulletin in March reminding the farming industry of the need to protect children and to ensure their safety during these unprecedented times. So what are your responsibilities?
Ensuring the health, safety and welfare of individuals
Under the Health & Safety at Work Etc Act 1974, an employer has a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable:
- The health, safety and welfare of all employees at work; and
- That persons "not in his employment" are not exposed to risks to their health and safety by the employer's business.
"Persons not in his employment" applies to self-employed workers and contractors; but also to visitors, members of the public, or even family members, including children and young people. These duties should be the starting point in considering your duties to individuals at your premises.
The current situation may make it tempting for workers to bring their children to work. Care should be taken to ensure that this does not happen; but in any case, where the presence of children in and around farms cannot be avoided, because, for example, they live there, they must be properly protected.
Preventing harm to children under 13
The Prevention of Accidents to Children in Agriculture Regulations 1998 place specific restrictions on what children under the age of 13 may do in an agricultural setting. This includes a prohibition on children driving tractors, vehicles or machinery in use for agricultural purposes. It is also illegal for children to ride on tractors, machinery or vehicles (either mechanical or drawn by an animal) - even with an adult - unless in a suitable trailer. This includes quad bikes and other all-terrain vehicles.
Thinking about the risks
The law does not necessarily prevent young people working, or from being on the farm if appropriately supervised; but, it does require businesses to take extra care and to assess risks appropriately. Useful guidance can be found on the HSE website and in the HSE Leaflet "Preventing Accidents to Children on Farms".
Guidance should be issued to workers about the dangers of children being in and around farms and the supervision which is required. The prohibitions imposed by the Prevention of Accidents to Children in Agriculture Regulations 1998 should also be made clear. Careful consideration should be given to whether or not workers should be specifically prohibited from bringing their children to work and the restrictions required to ensure the safety of children.
It will not however be sufficient to simply warn workers of the risks. Any rules or practices introduced or already in existence should be monitored and steps taken to enforce them if necessary.
Parents in the agricultural industry may be feeling stretched by the coronavirus pandemic - whether due to a lack of childcare, increased food production levels, or a limited number of staff due to illness or isolation. These are difficult times but it is essential that those in the industry take care to ensure that children are kept safe and protected from risks - not only those arising from COVID 19, but also from more familiar hazards.