Tractors and children – a potentially lethal combination

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Farming is a way of life and for those kids growing up on farms it is not only the family’s livelihood but their playground too.

Of course, people often believe that farm children understand farm risks. But it’s not as simple as that –most children who die in farm incidents are family members (either of the farm owner or of farm workers). The tragic headlines this week regarding the death of a two year old boy, who was killed when he was run over by his father after the boy fell off the tractor while they were loading silage, demonstrates the need for all who live and work on farms to be vigilant regarding children’s safety around tractors.

Importantly, farm owners, operators and their employees need to understand their obligations under law for the health and safety of young persons on tractors.

The obligations of owners, employers and employees are dealt with under The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 and The Health and Safety in Employment Regulations 1995. The Health and Safety in Employment Act’s object is to promote the prevention of harm to all persons at work and other persons in, or in the vicinity of, a place of work. This includes farms and all who visit them.

In respect of tractors the intent of the legislation is to preclude the carrying of passengers on tractors. From the perspective of children and tractors, generally, children under the age of 15 years are not permitted by the regulations to drive a tractor or ride on a tractor when it is towing an implement. Nor are they permitted to ride on any implement.

The reasoning for these restrictions is clear. As this week’s heart-rending case demonstrates, the possible consequences of allowing young children onto tractors as unrestrained passengers are potentially lethal.  Children can and do:

  • fall from the tractor
  • interfere with the operator’s control of the vehicle
  • distract the operator, or
  • unintentionally operate controls (e.g. the parking brake or hydraulics) when the operator leaves the cab, to open a gate for example.

The regulations do allow, in special circumstances, children over the age of 12 to drive tractors, ride on tractors, or ride on implements used for agricultural work. The requirements are that:

  • the tractor use is in connection with agricultural work, and
  • it is solely for the purpose of instructing the child to drive the tractor for the purpose of agricultural work.

Children over the age of 12 are also permitted to drive or ride on a tractor or implement where they: 

  • have been fully trained to operate the tractor and any implements attached to it
  • are in a safe position on the tractor or implement, and
  • are the only child on the tractor.

Unfortunately, while our farming families do live in their work environment, farms are not playgrounds.  Farmers and farm employees need to be aware of the potential risks should they fail to comply with the obligations imposed by both the Act and Regulations. Farm owners, operators and employees in control of workplaces should check their health and safety systems and procedures to ensure they address their obligations. Failure to do so could result in substantial penalties.

It is an offence to fail to comply with certain parts of the Act or Regulations. A fine of up to $250,000 can be imposed. A fine of up to $10,000 can be imposed on persons who control places of work if they fail to warn others of significant hazards in the place of work.

If you are uncertain of your obligations under the Act and the Regulations or alternatively want to make sure you are complying with the provisions of the Act and Regulations to avoid possible prosecution then please contact us.