Bulletin #2307, Maine Farm Safety Program: Kids on the Farm: Hazards Outside the Home

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Bulletin #2307, Maine Farm Safety Program: Kids on the Farm: Hazards Outside the Home (PDF)

By Dawna L. Cyr, Farm Safety Project Assistant, and Steven B. Johnson, Ph.D., Extension Crops Specialist

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On a farm, powerful machinery and tools, chemicals, confined spaces, ponds, animals and motor vehicles on rural roads are some of the potential hazards. Most serious injuries suffered by farm children and adults involve machinery. Because of these hazards, parents need to create “hazard-free” play areas to protect their children. A farm cannot be considered a giant playground. Boundaries and limits need to be set for play areas.

Hazard-Free Play Area

Children should have a place to play where they are protected from the daily hazards of farm life. This area should be away from the driveway and buildings. Everyone on the farm should know where this area is and make sure the children use it. The area should be free of broken and unsafe equipment. Make it a place children will enjoy and use. Areas could include a sandbox, swing set, backyard or porch. Childen should know they can go to the designated area and be safe.

  • Establish a hazard-free play area for small children.
  • Teach children to respect dangerous farm animals.
  • Lock up chemicals safely.
  • Don’t allow children to play on tractors or other farm machinery.

Physical Safety

A child’s physical safety is the most important thing for parents. Flame-resistant clothing protects children if there is a fire. Conspicuous colored clothing and toys will make children more visible. Bicycle riders of all ages should wear helmets, and all bicycles should have reflectors. Children riding in vehicles need to be in approved child safety seats or seat belts.

Animal Behavior

Children love animals, but animals don’t always love children. Children need to be taught how to handle and work around animals to lessen potential hazards. Household pets can be as dangerous as farm animals. Respect for all animals should be one of the first things taught to young children.

Storage Buildings and Barns

Buildings of any kind pose hazards for children. Be aware of potential hazards in the various buildings on the farm and take measures to lessen them. Lock up chemicals and dispose of containers properly, put ladders out of reach and do not lean heavy objects against walls. Good housekeeping is the first step to safety.

Test your garage door opener. Use a two-inch thick piece of wood at the bottom and close the door. If the door does not reverse, disengage it and fix or replace the opener as soon as possible.

Riding and Playing on Equipment

Safety starts with adults. Children will imitate adult behavior whether it’s safe or not. Make sure proper safety procedures become a part of everyday life. Wear seat belts when driving, and fasten small children in approved child safety seats. Wear a helmet when riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV).

Children should not operate machinery until they are completely safety trained. This includes lawn mowers and ATVs. Once trained, make sure children always follow safety rules.

Children are fascinated with big vehicles. Big vehicles can lead to accidents. Do not allow children to ride or play on tractors or other pieces of farm machinery. Adults need to take certain precautions if an unsupervised child plays on equipment. Remove the ignition keys from parked equipment and lock the brakes. Front-end loaders, buckets or other such equipment that might fall, should be left in the down position. When parked, self-propelled machinery should be locked and dangerous machinery components should be kept out of reach of children.

Bicycle Safety

Teach these bicycle safety rules to children and follow them yourself:

  1. Stop before riding out into traffic from a driveway, sidewalk, alley or parking lot. Look left, right and left again. When there is no traffic, enter the roadway.
  2. Ride on the right with traffic.
  3. Obey all traffic signs, including stop signs and red lights. Kids under 12 should walk, not bike, through busy intersections.
  4. Look back and yield to traffic coming from behind before turning left at intersections.

An All Terrain Vehicle Checklist

Before taking an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) out for a ride or for work, make a pre-ride inspection. This is important because a person can ride farther in an hour than they can walk in a day. Always consult the owner’s manual for all the details. Here’s a checklist of items to inspect:

____ Tires and wheels: Check the air pressure and conditions of the tires. Make sure everything is tight on the wheels.

____ Controls: Check the throttle and other cables. Make sure the brakes work smoothly and be sure the foot shifter is secured and positioned for comfortable operation.

____ Lights and switches: Test them to make sure they are working properly.

____ Oil and fuel: Check the levels and look for possible leaks. Start out with a full fuel tank.

____ Chain drive shaft and chassis: Depending on how the ATV is equipped, maintain the chain or drive shaft according to the owner’s manual. Check for loose parts. Make sure the major fasteners are tight.

____ Always carry a tool kit and a first aid kit for emergencies.

Plants and Gardening

Children love to play with plants in the yard. Children need to know outdoor plants may be played with but not eaten. Pick and dispose of mushrooms in the yard. Explain to children they are not the same as those purchased in the grocery store and should never be eaten.

Gardening is often a family activity. Store seeds and bulbs out of reach of children until they are to be used. When fruits and vegetables are ready to be harvested, pick them with the children. Children may confuse good food with food that is harmful. Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating them, and teach children to do the same.

If there is a suspected plant poisoning, immediately contact a physician or the Northern New England Poison Control Center at 1.800.222.1222. Get a plant sample. It will aid in diagnosis and treatment.


There may be water hazards on the farm. Never leave small children unsupervised in or near water, including ponds, swimming pools, and stock water tanks. Be sure to secure well head covers, dug wells, and abandoned wells. Farm ponds and manure pits should be fenced and children taught to stay clear of them.

If possible, it is a good idea for children to take swimming lessons. This does not alleviate the need for supervision but gives children more confidence around water.

This Maine Farm Safety fact sheet is part of an educational fact sheet series produced by University of Maine Cooperative Extension. For more information on farm safety, contact your UMaine Extension County Office.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2002, 2020

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