Risk Education, Down on the Farm

Based on an article in Safety Education Autumn 2010

School trips to farms are common for children ages from seven to 13-year-old. Traditionally, visits have been characterised by rigorous safety guidelines, lists of dos and don'ts and the removal of hazards. However, with the number of fatal and non-fatal injuries to farm workers and visitors changing little in recent years, RoSPA and Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) have decided to try a different style – practical safety education.

RoSPA hosted the Child Safety Education Coalition (since replaced by the LASER Alliance) which teamed up with FACE to turn the traditional "look but don't touch" style of farm safety education on its head with a new scheme.

The scheme was piloted on five farms in the Midlands throughout June.

The aim was to use farm visits to help children develop skills to prevent unintended injuries to themselves and others, not just on farms but elsewhere in the countryside and in life generally.

Interacting with animals, including approaching and feeding them, was covered in a range of activities, as was staying safe in the field – a topic which included water safety and the identification of poisonous plants and berries. Barn and machinery safety and the importance of good hand washing also featured in the project.

More information about the resource is available from www.face-online.org.uk

The resource was developed partly in response to a report into the outbreak of E. coli at a petting farm, welcomed by RoSPA which – quashed fears that children were to be banned from touching animals.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents backed Professor George Griffin's call to raise public awareness of the potential infection risks at farms, as well as his recommendation that parents or carers should continue decide if children are allowed to touch animals. (www.hpa.org.uk/webw/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1317135574117)

When the report was published Peter Cornall, RoSPA's former head of leisure safety, said: "Frankly, we are relieved that this report has not rushed to judgment and barred children from fully appreciating all the wonders of the countryside.

"If young people are to develop into well-rounded individuals they need to experience some of the risks presented by real life conditions. How else will they learn to cope as independent adults?

"Instead of just stopping young people from exploring the world, we should be saying 'if you want to do A, B and C, then you need to do X, Y and Z to protect yourself and others.'"

"The traditional stance in farm safety has been to hide dangers from children, but we want to encourage hands-on experiences which give children the chance to think about and practice skills which will keep them safe, where that is appropriate."

RoSPA also supports its recommendation for robust risk assessments, the promotion of hand washing and the good design of public areas.

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