How many kids die on Australian farms each year? Each week?

You can see from my blog that I take our children pretty much everywhere with me on the farm. The thing is, there are places I no longer go, so they can stay safe. I don’t milk, I don’t get into the yard when it’s full of cows and I avoid situations where cattle of any age are moving quickly in confined spaces.

I can make these choices because we can afford to pay other people to help but not every farmer can. And out here, the town’s youngest children have access to just two hours’ formal care per week.

If you don’t have an extended family willing and able to help, you might feel there’s little choice but to leave the kids playing by the gate or sitting in the ute while you do a risky job. This is how farm safety and childcare are so tightly connected. There’s nothing bourgeoise about needing childcare to drench the heifers or build a fence.

The impact of a lack of childcare on a farming community is tricky to gauge but the unfathomable grief that seeps through a community after the death of a child is something that resonates in your bones for many years. According to the stats, one child is killed on an Australian farm every fortnight.

I wouldn’t normally include a whole slab of stats but these, from the Aghealth Australia site, are so telling:

A recent study by the National Farm Injury Data Centre (NFIDC) based at AgHealth of on-farm fatalities for the 2001-2004 period found that:

Children (0-14yrs) make up 15-20% of farm injury deaths, around 2/3 are male. Main agents are:

  • Drowning in dams (mostly under five year olds)
  • Quad bikes or 4 wheeled motorbikes
  • Farm vehicles (cars, utes)
  • Around quarter of all child deaths were visitors to the farm, but for quad bikes around ½ are visitors
  • Drowning accounts for around 35-40% on child farm deaths, with farm dams being by far the most common site.

There has been an improvement in the reduction of toddler drowning on farms in recent years – particularly a reduction of dam drownings, which have halved since the early nineties. However, drowning is still the number one cause of child farm fatality in Australia. A common scenario is that a toddler wanders away from the home un-noticed into farm water bodies or toward other farm hazards (vehicles, mobile machinery). Apart from dams, children can find their way into creeks, troughs, dips and channels. Children under five years are at greatest risk.

For non-fatal injury of children on farms, older children (5 -15 yrs) figure more prominently – particularly in relation to injury from 2 and 4 wheeled motorbikes (and horses). Whilst there tend to be more hospital ED presentations for 2 wheeled motorbikes, injuries from quad bikes are likely to be more severe or fatal, with 4 times as many children being killed off ATV’s than 2 wheel motorbikes on farms (NFIDC 2007).

My lucky girl

Farm life can be fun and safe for children but tragedy strikes too often

Farms are extremely dangerous places for children. FarmSafe warns farming families of the horrible record of child deaths on Australian farms and makes some very sensible recommendations.

Some more conservative organisations recommend children are confined to safe play areas. That’s not reality for many farming families, including ours. We all work together because we need to and because it’s fun. On our farm, we are really careful Zoe understands there are some no-go zones and to observe some critical rules (not to get too close to the cows is one example).

One of Zoe’s favourite jobs around the farm is rounding up the cows for milking. It’s a great chance to run around, be an important helper and show how responsible she is. Zoe’s very proud and very lucky. So am I.