Farmers urged to review safety processes after child dies

Kiwi farmers are being urged to check safety measures around farmhouses and effluent ponds after the tragic death of a 4-year-old boy on Saturday.

Four-year-old Reuben Nolan was found dead in an effluent pond on a farm in Harihari, Westland, about 4pm on Saturday.

Reuben was reported missing shortly before 1.30pm, and his body was later discovered following a two-and-a-half-hour search by police officers, local volunteers, family and friends.

Westland mayor Bruce Smith said the township of Harihari was in absolute shock and the death was a "huge tragedy" for the close-knit community of 350 people.

"When someone so young is taken like this it just impacts all of the parents and grandparents. It's a terrible thing," he said.

DairyNZ people team manager Jane Muir said the death was an incredibly sad tragedy.

"Our hearts go out to the family. We don't know the circumstances around this tragedy but we know the wider farming community will be doing everything they can to provide support as farming is a close-knit community," she said.

"We also know that farmers will all be giving their children an extra hug at this time," she said.

The death follows four similar incidents in previous years; Houtimata Farm Ltd was fined $40,000 and ordered to pay reparation of $75,000 after Bene Materoa-Mahu, 60, of Waimate, drowned in an unfenced, uncovered effluent pond in August 2014.

Two-year-old Irene Nath also died in January 2014 after being found in a duck pond on a farm at Otapiri, near Winton; and 21-month-old Anamiek Manshande drowned in a shallow pond on a farm near Westport in November 2014.

Summer Kaylee Frank (3) also died after drowning in an effluent pond on a dairy farm in 2009.

In response to Summer's death, the Federated Farmers' Variable Order Sharemilking Agreement was amended with specific provisions to help keep children safe on farms.

The changes meant a farmhouse on a dairy property is required to have stock proof fence and there must be provision of a safe place for children to be in if they are at the milking shed while their parents work.

Federated Farmers National President Katie Milne said while the circumstances of four-year-old Reuben Nolan's death are not yet known, the tragedy serves as an opportunity to remind people of the proper safety procedures.

"It is a tragedy what has happened to that community and that family," she said.

"Every farmer in the country is thinking about this right now and no doubt self-assessing and running through the horror of what if it was one of their employee's kids, their own kids or their grandkids."

AgSafe NZ also posted on Facebook saying the death was "a timely reminder to review the safety processes and systems that protect young ones".

"Our sincere condolences to the family of the 4-year-old who drowned in an effluent pond over the weekend in Westland. The loss of a child is traumatic," AgSafe NZ wrote.

"Effluent ponds are not the only dangerous places on farms and with young children signs don't work. It is a timely reminder to review the safety processes and systems that protect the young ones - farms are dangerous places.

"There are vehicle movements, livestock and exposed waterways. Workshops and machinery even when stationery are hazards. We are continually coming across unprotected hazards. Keep your children safe. The school holidays are about to start!

"AgSafe can assist with your farm policies and while no one can guarantee 100 per cent safety on the farm, a well-prepared policy can help you all be aware of the dangers and hazard areas."

The DairyNZ website has guidelines on how to secure effluent ponds, however, these are recommendations and not legal requirements.

The recommendations state that all effluent ponds should be fenced off with a netting fence to prevent stock and children from accidentally falling into the pond. Locked gates are essential and electric fences can also be used.

They also state that all ponds should have at least one permanently placed ladder or alternative escape means in case a person falls into the pond. Farmers can have a life buoy available in the area too.

Warning signs should also be used to keep people out of the area but direct communication with people is important too, including talking with children, farm staff, contractors, visitors and family about the effluent pond risks and how to be safe.

Farmers for Farm Safety Ltd director D'Arcy Palmer said the problem was getting farmers to take all practical steps to ensure safety.

"I am on 1400-1500 dairy farms around New Zealand and only a very small percentage of those farms would be compliant in their compound fencing with their effluent.

"They don't understand those requirements despite it not costing a lot of money to isolate these areas," he said.

Palmer said adequate fencing requires deer or sheep netting, for the fence to be a minimum of 1.2m high, gaps under the fence to be no greater than 100mm, and should use vertical rods to prevent a child from climbing it.

"That is doing all you can and displaying due diligence," he said. "You also have to have a retrieval procedure."

A WorkSafe spokesperson said it had opened an investigation into the most recent incident.

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