How laws apply to family farms

The Child Employment Act 2003 regulates employment of children under 15 years.

Generally you need a permit to employ children under 15 years. Employers must also comply with the minimum age, hours of work and rest break requirements.

However, these duties do not apply when children are employed in a family business, including farms.

A family business is a business, trade or occupation carried on by a parent or guardian of the child.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 employers must also provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and free of risks to all employees' health.

As part of this you must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • provide a safe work environment
  • eliminate risks so far as reasonably practicable
  • report to WorkSafe notifiable incidents that happen in a workplace under your management and control

What work can a child be employed to do?

Children working on farms can only complete light work, even if a permit is not required. Light work includes work that:

  • is not likely to be harmful to a child's health, safety and welfare
  • does not affect a child's ability to attend school

You should consider a child's age, sex, physical development and maturity when deciding what is light work. You should also think about the workplace environment and where children are completing work.

The Child Employment Act provides a guide on the types of work that are likely to be harmful for children, such as working near moving vehicles or with uncontrolled animals

What to remember when working with children

When working with and supervising children, it's important to remember they:

  • do not possess experience, knowledge or judgment about workplace hazards and safe work practices
  • are unlikely to know if they are being exposed to health and safety risks and may find it hard to speak up even if they do
  • may be energetic and enthusiastic but unsure about asking questions or making demands of adults
  • are often keen to please so they might try to imitate what they see adults doing
  • might play near machinery or chemicals etc. without realising the risks involved
  • can be inquisitive and adventurous and their natural curiosity may lead them into dangerous situations in workplaces
  • do not have the experience and maturity to respond appropriately in unexpected, dangerous or stressful situations
  • may be vulnerable to bullying and harassment

Keeping children safe when working on family farms

While older children can help on the family farm, they must be supervised by a parent or guardian.

For parents whose children are working on farms, it's important to encourage children to be responsible and cautious. Some ways to do this include:

  • teaching safety rules that apply to the different areas of the farm
  • making sure your child understands that certain areas are out-of-bounds for them, for example silos, grain loading areas, farm machinery and animal pens
  • being consistent and disciplining your child if they break the rules

reinforcing discipline by explaining the hazards and consequences of ignoring safety rules