Safe Play Areas

An average of 5 to 6 children drown in farm dams and water bodies each year in Australia.  Most are under five years of age and a third are visitors to the farm. 
The most common situation is that a toddler wanders away from supervision un-noticed, finding their way into a farm dam.  They may be noticed missing only after a few minutes. 
A securely fenced house yard, supported by active supervision, is one of the best ways to help prevent a toddler drowning – or wandering into the path of farm vehicles and machinery.   
Fenced house yards on farms are a key recommendation of Farmsafe Australia, peak child safety and water safety agencies. Resources for safe play areas on farms are available on right under Related Documents section.

Further information:
A Safe Play Area DVD and other resources are available on request by emailing info[at]farmsafe[dot]org[dot]au
Frequently Asked Questions:
Is drowning in farm dams a big problem in Australia?

  • Yes.  A  recent update on farm fatalities by the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (ACAHS), indicates that drowning is the main cause of death to children on farms, claiming the lives of 25 children from 2003-2006. This was 40% of all child farm deaths.

  • Farm dams alone were the most common location of drowning, responsible for over half of drowning incidents.   Farm dams were also the most common single agent of fatality, out of all causes of child deaths on farms.

Who is most at risk of drowning on farms?

  • Children under five years accounted for three-quarters of children who drowned on farms.  Apart from dams, younger children also drowned in creeks, troughs, dips and channels.  Toddlers often wandered away from the home un-noticed.

  • 84% of children who drowned on farms (2003-2006) were male.  Around a third were visitors to the farm.

Is this any different to other years?

  • Less children drown in farm dams during 2003-2006 than in the early 1990s.  Whilst 13 children drowned in dams from 2003-2006, 33 children drowned in dams between 1989-92.

Are there more recent statistics on drowning in farm dams than 2003-2006?
ACAHS compiles data using the National Coronial Information System (NCIS).  However, determining whether an incident occurs on farm or not, means going through every individual case.  Due to the ‘investigative’ nature of cases, some files are not definitive for a number of years.  That is why there is a time lag on reliable ‘on-farm’ cases.
It is possible to get an idea of more recent on-farm drowning cases, through media reports.  Media reports from 2007 to mid 2010 suggest that at least another 10 children have drowned on farms over that time.  However, locations of incidents are not always clear from media articles - and some incidents are not reported in the media at all.  Media reports, whilst more recent, tend to under-estimate the true number of drowning incidents on farms. 
What can farmers do to prevent children drowning in farm dams?
Having a securely fenced house yard or “safe play area” with child-resistant gates and latches, is a key recommendation for preventing toddlers drowning on farms – endorsed by the Australian Water Safety Plan and major water safety agencies such as RLSSA, Kids Alive and Kidsafe.  
Recent research from ACAHS indicates that only around one-half of farms have a fenced house yard secure enough to prevent a toddler wandering away without an adult. This proportion is even less in some regions.
A fenced house yard or safe play area, will help prevent unsupervised access to farm hazards such as dams and other farm hazards. Farm families need to ensure young children stay in this safe play area unless an adult is available to take them out and closely supervise them.
A fenced house yard helps make supervision that much easier.  The idea is to provide an access barrier between toddlers and farm hazards – much like a pool fence does, but in reverse.  Whilst not always possible, it is good to aim toward pool standard (AS 1926.1 – 2007).   
The principle is to make it difficult for young children to leave the house yard without an adult.  Fences themselves need to be resistant to a child climbing through or over them (e.g. solid or vertical rail, no footholes, 1.2 -1.5 m high, low ground clearance). 
All family members and visitors need to be alert to keep the area safe and secure as well (eg. ensure gates are kept closed).  Having an interesting yard with play items such as sandpits and open-areas for ball play, can help as well. 
How else can we prevent drowning on farms? 
It is advisable to check for other water hazards near the house - and eliminate access to these where possible. This might include covering old tanks and dips, placing mesh in water troughs - and fencing backyard pools.
Supervision, when out and about on the farm, needs to be close and active enough for a toddler to “hold my hand”.  This is consistent with the advice of major early childhood and water safety agencies.   In addition, water familiarization and teaching children to swim from an early age is advisable.   Learning resuscitation skills is also a water safety essential.  

What about preventing other sorts of child injury on farms?
Drowning accounts for around 40% of child farm deaths, with dams the most common water body.  In fact, dams alone were responsible for 21% of all child farm deaths.   After dams, quad bikes (13%) and farm vehicles (13%) were the next most common agents of child fatality on farms (2003-2006). For quad bikes, (riders and passengers) - 1/3 were under 5yrs; and for farm vehicles (cars-utes), 1/2 were under 5yrs of age.
Four times as many children were killed on quad bikes than 2 wheel motorbikes on farms.    Research suggests this is because riders / passengers are more likely to be pinned under an upturned quad bike, sustaining chest or abdominal crush injuries. 
A fenced house yard or safe play area, can also help prevent young children wandering away unsupervised into the farm workplace, and into the path of vehicles and machinery.  For children of all ages, Farmsafe recommends farm families adopt the following child safety practices on their farm, as a matter of priority.

  • Always ensure children wear seatbelts in cars, utes and trucks
  • Do not allow children to ride on tractors, quad bikes or on the back or utes
  • Always ensure children wear helmets riding farm bikes and horses

Follow these links to other organisations who have resources and interest in safety of children on farms:

For more information and resources on child farm safety, go to the main child farm safety page on this website or call Farmsafe on 02 6752 5218.