I wasn’t happy the boy was left in the cab… he started acting up — jumping up and down demanding to drive. He fell off the seat and hit his head a fair whack on the door handle
I work as a tillage contractor and there was an incident recently that has got me very worried.
One of the farmers I work with has a 12-year-old boy who is mad about machinery. I have been working with them for a couple of years and the boy has been in the harvester cab a few times while his father was present, and there were no problems.
When I was working with them recently, the farmer was called away to deal with something and he left the boy with me. It wasn’t something I was very happy with, but I was given no choice.
As soon as the farmer left, the son started acting up — jumping up and down demanding to drive. He fell off the seat and hit his head a fair whack on the door handle.
I had to stop the machine and call the farmer. He took the boy away and I finished the job, and I haven’t heard from him since.
I sent a message asking if the boy was OK but have heard nothing back. I can’t sleep with the worry that I will be sued.
What is my exposure here?
The Health and Safety Authority have established a code of practice on preventing accidents to children and young persons in Agriculture.
Included in this is a prohibition on children under seven years old being allowed in the cab of a tractor or other farm machinery, even the passenger seat.
It also states that children aged between seven and 16 should not be allowed on tractors or trailers unless the cab is fitted with a properly designed and fitted passenger seat with a seatbelt.
The children must keep the seatbelt on, understanding that while they are in the cab, they are not to distract the driver and must follow strict rules, for example, not to touch controls.
The HSA also states that a child under 14 is not allowed to operate tractors or self-propelled machines.
So while the 12-year-old in your case is permitted to be in a cab, it must be in a cab that has a properly designed and fitted passenger seat and seatbelt.
As he was jumping up and down and fell off the seat, it is fair to assume he was not wearing a seatbelt.
You have not indicated whether there was an appropriate passenger seat and seatbelt in your tractor.
Also, you have not outlined the particular injuries the boy sustained from hitting his head.
Given the code of practice, you were correct not to allow the 12-year-old boy to drive the tractor.
You say that you were given no choice when the farmer left the boy with you but unfortunately, I disagree — it was your tractor, you are the contractor and therefore it is your decision whether a child remains in the tractor with you.
You had a duty of care to the child when he was left with you, and it was also your duty to adhere to health and safety guidelines.
In any claim for compensation, the courts will look to see whether the person being sued had a duty of care to the injured party, whether they breached that duty of care and if that breach caused the injury.
Courts would also look to see whether the injured party contributed in some way, through their actions/inaction, to their own injury. In this case, a court may look to see whether contributory negligence on the part of the injured child applies.
If you have not informed your insurance company about the incident, you should immediately do so to make sure you will be covered if a claim is made against you.
Deirdre Flynn is from a farming background and practises as a solicitor in Tralee, Co Kerry
The information in this article is intended as a general guide only. While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information provided, Deirdre Flynn does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising. You should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.