7 principles and 2 best practices to keep your kids safe on the farm

May 17, 2016

Children farm safetyKeeping farm kids safe can be a full-time occupation for already busy people. Kids are curious, imaginative and fun-loving, which can quickly put them in harm's way if we're not careful. WSPS Network News recently spoke with Heidi Wagner, secretary of the Waterloo Farm Safety Association, who identified a number of safety principles for keeping your kids safe. To build on those principles, we've also provided quick tips on safe play areas and guidelines based on age and developmental level.

Let's start with safety principles.

  1. Children are unpredictable. Even if they 'know better,' they get distracted, succumb to peer pressure, test the limits, and then all the rules are put aside. Don't assume that just because they know better they will behave as you tell them to.
  2. Animals are unpredictable. Before allowing kids to complete tasks, show them how to safely handle the animal and recognize warning signs. Teach kids about behaviours unique to each animal, including how to recognize when they're scared or unhappy, and what to do (e.g., if you see a growling dog, a cow pawing the dirt, or a horse whinnying and tossing its head, slowly back away or get behind a barrier). Don't let kids handle animals until you're confident they're ready.
  3. Understand what your kids consider fun. Discuss with them where they like to play and why. What they tell you may identify safety concerns you hadn't considered, allowing you to discuss hazards and how to stay safe.
  4. Just because you tell them not to do something doesn't mean they won't. They may not remember, they may not have understood, or they may think, "This is different."
  5. Kids bend rules. "You said 'Never do this,' but you didn't say 'Never do that.'"
  6. Cause and effect training only goes so far. Children are intrigued by cause and effect, but may not be able to foresee the effects, especially if they involve unfamiliar hazards.
  7. "So far so good" isn't good enough. If nothing has gone wrong so far, you may just be lucky. Rely on best practices, not luck, to keep people safe.

2 best practices: safe play areas and respecting age and developmental levels

A safe play area is a planned, designated location with limited exposure to such hazards as traffic, agricultural production and environmental concerns. Designate these play areas by boundaries or physical barriers. Locate them within sight and sound of a responsible adult and away from

  • vehicle traffic, machinery, unstable structures, farm animals, lofts, and other hazards
  • open water; children can drown in as little as 2 inches
  • sun, wind, dust and hazardous airborne particles

For guidelines on constructing safe play areas, check out this document from the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association.

Assigning your children age-appropriate tasks requires respecting the child's age and developmental level. Here are some guidelines from a project to promote safe play for kids in rural areas and reduce play-related injuries.

  • Infants and toddlers - require constant adult supervision and physical controls, such as restraints (infant carriers or car seats) and barriers.
  • Preschoolers - supervision and barriers are still essential. "Touch" supervision is key when dangers are near (i.e., the adult is close enough to grab the child and is not distracted by reading or talking on the phone).
  • School age - kids ages 6-11 have short attention spans and are unable to evaluate danger and make safe decisions. Though constant supervision might not be necessary, kids still need contact with an adult every 10-15 minutes. You will still need to remove hazards and teach kids by repeated demonstration. Use rules to guide behaviour.
  • Middle school: By 12 years of age, kids will have limited ability to use good judgment. Limit their tasks, monitor them for risk taking behaviour, and ensure they use proper safety equipment.

Check out this document for examples of age-specific tasks.

How we can help

WSPS has consultants on hand to help you create a safe environment for all your family members. We can provide you with practical, actionable information, help you assess hazards, and identify sustainable solutions. Call Customer Care today: 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).

For more information visit our Farm Safety resources section.


Keeping kids safe on farms: A Guide For Farming Families, Safe Play Areas for Ross County Kids (SPARK) Project.