It could be argued that children are quicker than adults at listening to important messages and adhering to rules. How many times have you been reminded by your children to put on your seat belt or put down the phone while driving?

Are we missing a trick with children and our farm safety message? If we channel this message through children, it could have a greater impact on work practices around Irish farms and change the culture and mindset around farm safety.

Some might say it’s a valid argument. Personally, I don’t think that is practical

We have been selling the message to the older generation for a long time, with variable levels of success. Is it time to concentrate more on the younger generation? There are some who believe children shouldn’t be allowed into the farmyard, arguing that it is a workplace – would children be allowed on to a building site?

Some might say it’s a valid argument. Personally, I don’t think that is practical. It’s important that we foster a love for animals and nature in the next generation, and after all, the vast majority of farms in Ireland are small family farms.

I do think we can do better though at keeping children out of yards when it’s busy. Silage making, slurry spreading, TB testing etc, should all be times when children aren’t present in the yard. Time is something many of us don’t have a lot of, but taking some time to explain the dangers to children will help them to understand.

That image has stayed with me

As a child, I’ll never forget watching a video with Ronan Clarke from Ear to the Ground on tractor safety, where actors played out an accident with a silage buck rake where a child got killed. That image has stayed with me and I can recall it as if I watched it yesterday. The power of the visual with children is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

As part of this week’s Farm Safety focus, we look at some tips to keep children safe on farms.

Children on tractors

Out of all fatal accidents involving children on farms, 68% are associated with tractors and machinery – by far the biggest cause of child fatalities in the industry. While many farmers believe that a child is safer on the tractor than around the yard, the law states that a child under seven must not be inside the cab of a tractor. This is because it not possible for a farmer to concentrate on the task at hand while also watching a child.

A child over 14 should only be allowed to drive a tractor if a formal training course has been completed

Children aged between seven and 16 should only ride in a tractor if there is a properly fitted passenger seat with seatbelts inside the cab. Children under 14 years of age should never operate tractors or self-propelled machines. A child over 14 should only be allowed to drive a tractor if a formal training course has been completed. Close supervision of drivers aged over 14 is advised. Care should also be taken when vehicles are not in use – check that keys are removed, the handbrake is applied, all implements are lowered to ground level and all doors are locked. In Northern Ireland, no child under 13 is allowed in a tractor cab.

Play area

A safe and secure play area for children should be provided away from the farmyard and in full view of the dwelling house.

This area should be fenced off with escape-proof access gates capable of being locked.

Children should not be allowed to access heights

If a safe and secure area is not available, a high level of adult supervision is required. Children should not be allowed to access heights, such as climbing ladders or hay bales.


Make sure children know the dangers associated with livestock. Children should not be allowed near dangerous animals such as bulls, stallions, rams or female animals with newborns. Animals can perceive young children as a threat, which can result in aggressive behaviour.

Children should not be present at high-risk times, such as loading livestock, animal handling in crush areas or when cows are calving.