Staying safe, down on the farm

Staying safe, down on the farm 03/10/2008
Gaetane Anselme

Gaetane Anselme, 40, received advice from Preventagri on how to improve safety for children at her educational farm in Wallonia.

"The farm is a marvellous place for kids. You have the machines and the animals, but these things also represent potential dangers." So says Gaetan Anselme, who runs a small farm with her family in the hamlet of Nevraumont in rural Belgium.

Gaetane married into her husband's farm in 1986 and quickly learned the tricks of the trade. Working together, the Anselme's produce fresh milk and eggs and raise pigs. They also organise educational visits for children, offering them the opportunity to learn about farm life, and get involved in looking after the animals.

"We have a lot of animals," says Gaetane. "We have all kinds of foul – chickens, ducks and geese, and we have the cows, the pigs... The kids love it and they learn a lot. We show children how a farm works. We also teach them horseback riding and they learn a little bit about the history of the area, about farming practices and rural heritage. It's really a full experience that we think brings them closer to their roots."

The Anselmes welcome children of all ages to their 'educational farm'. "They come from the local area and from far-off cities like Brussels and Antwerp, and from different countries," says Gaetane. "We've worked with school kids and other groups, individuals, children with disabilities, and even future primary school teachers."

Making sure everyone is safe is an obvious priority, she says, but working day-in and day-out in the same environment makes it easy to loose sight of potential risks.

"Our guests can stay for just one day or can spend several days. We have a variety of lodgings for our guests. Even families can join us. There is a lot to think about when you have people on the premises that might not be familiar with the farm environment. We have a lot of tools and machinery about, and the animals, though domesticated, can be unpredictable.

Gaetane wanted to be sure she was doing everything possible to guarantee the safety of the children staying at the farm. "We are all so used to the farm," she says, "I'm sure there are a lot of things I was not thinking about or noticing, potential dangers." So, in July 2007, she decided to ask for help. The Preventagri programme, co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund, sent a team of inspectors, free of charge, to cast a fresh eye over the farm, and suggest how best to avoid accidents.

Through Preventagri, the European Social Fund provides counselling and training aimed at minimising work-related safety and health risks. On demand, a team of inspectors comes to examine farm facilities, to check on security issues and draw attention to potential hazards. They can then inform farmers on the measures they need to take to prevent accidents. The project also offers safety-related conferences and training courses.

"The inspection team came and stayed for a full day," Gaetane explains. "They really examined everything, things I wouldn't have thought of, like where you store tools, farm implements, buckets and even toys, or choosing the right animals for demonstrations."

She says one of the kids' favourite activities is learning how to milk a cow. "Our cows know us well and are relaxed and at ease when we're around, but some of them can get nervous with strangers and especially small children. The inspectors drew our attention to this kind of thing."

"I would say this initiative has helped us to deliver the best service and the safest experience for our young guests," says Gaetane. "Yes, I found it very helpful. Thanks to the programme, the way we see the farm environment has changed, and today I really believe we are all safer: myself and my family and the children and other visitors who stay with us."