Today marks the final day of Farm Safety Week 2016 supported by the Farm Safety Foundation, Farm Safety Partnerships, the Health & Safety Executive, Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and Health & Safety Authority, Ireland and today reminds us that farming is not child’s play!
The fourth annual Farm Safety Week offered a week of themed practical advice and guidance for farmers and urges farmers to consider “Who Would Fill Your Boots?” if something were to happen to them and never is this more poignant than when an accident happens to a child.
According to the Farm Safety Foundation’s Stephanie Berkeley: “We all know that farms can be wonderful places for children, where independence and responsibility are fostered and family relationships are strengthened. The farm environment provides children with valuable and unique experiences that enable them to develop both socially and physically, even though they are in an isolated setting. However farmyards are not playgrounds and evidence shows that this places children at greater risk of injury when playing or helping out around the farm.”
In a series of video clips entitled “What’s left behind” developed by Embrace FARM (a support network in Ireland for those affected by fatal and serious accidents), the father of six year old James Higgins reflects on the life of an “extraordinary little fellow” who stood out with his blonde hair and ability to talk to anyone from little pals his own age to people in their 90’s but who died when he fell into a soak-pit on the family farm near Shannonbridge in Co Offaly*.
On the day of the accident, James had gone down to show his grandfather his new glasses, just 50m away from the house, but when James’ mother Joan went down there was no sign of him.
According to James’ father Padraig: “There was a hole dug in the garden for a soak-pit and there was some water in it and we saw the little green knitted cap that he would have been wearing normally and it was floating around on the top of it. We thought there was something strange there,”
The family rushed to the spot and James’ brother Colm dived repeatedly into the freezing cold water to look for him fully convinced he wasn’t in it however their worst fears were realised when he caught his jumper and brought him up. “The panic started then,” added Colm.
An ambulance arrived to bring James to hospital but the family knew it was too late. Padraig believes that, with 22 children losing their lives in accidents on Irish farms between 2005-2015, the freedom his sons enjoyed growing up, can no longer be given to children on farms. “All our little lads used to come out and feed calves and it was great but we didn’t see the danger.” He says.
“An accident happens in a split second and it’s too late then. People have to be aware of what’s left behind. A farmyard is not a playground.”
Stephanie added: “This is a story that farmers across the land can empathise with. This is something that many farmers do and have done for centuries but Padraig Higgins would be the first to advise people to really think twice and use your common sense when considering children on the farm. People often believe that farm children understand farm risks, but most children who are hurt in farm incidents are family members.”
“The Higgins family are very brave to share this experience with us and we are forever grateful. Helping out on the farm, taking a ride on a tractor or helping at calving or lambing time seems exciting to many children, but it is just not safe. Summer is a time when children can be more at risk with the long school summer holidays and the challenging workloads for farmers. Farm Safety Week encourages farming families to have a dedicated safe play area for younger children so as to keep them safe from heavy machinery and other dangers around the farm, particularly when farms are at their busiest. Too often, children have access to the entire farm and view it as one big play space. Children must be taught about farm dangers and be kept isolated from these risks”