Farm safety focus as fatalities almost double

HSE advice is to think a job through and then put the right measures in place to make it safer

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Farming has been revealed to have the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK.

In Farm Safety Week, the Farm Safety Foundation, the charity behind the annual campaign, said that farmers over the age of 60 accounted for 53 per cent of those killed.

New figures reveal that fatal injuries on UK farms have almost doubled over the past year – from 21 fatalities in 2019/20 to 41 in 2020/21.

When comparing older and younger age groups the fatal injury rate is over four times higher for people aged 65 and over, compared to the 16-24 age group.

Seven members of the public also lost their lives on British farms in 2020/21 – five adults in incidents involving cattle and another two children.

In a recent survey almost seven in 10 farmers identified tiredness as a major risk with most having taken, or seen others take, risks due to being tired.

Farm Safety Week is an initiative led by the Farm Safety Foundation and supported by the Farm Safety Partnerships, the Health and Safety Executive, Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and the Health and Safety Authority, Ireland.

With long hours, intense physical labour, low pay and at the mercy of the elements, farming is a difficult industry to work in. For a workforce that accounts for just one per cent of the British working population, the industry accounts for nearly a quarter of all workplace fatal injuries, giving it the poorest safety record of any occupation.

A total of 41 people in England, Scotland and Wales were killed in agriculture including 34 farm workers.

‘Agriculture is a vital part of our economy and everyone involved is rightly proud of the quality and standard of the food produced,’ explains Adrian Hodkinson, acting head of agriculture, Health and Safety Executive.

‘However, this appears to come at a significant cost to many farmers and workers in terms of serious injury, lifelong ill-health and in some cases death.

‘The causes of farm incidents are well known and the things to stop them are usually straightforward: putting on handbrakes; fastening lap belts in cabs; getting ATV training and helmets; putting cows and calves in fields without footpaths; stopping things before trying to fix or unblock them, and so on.

‘When we investigate life-changing farm workplace incidents we find, time and time again, that risks are not being removed or managed.

‘It is far too common for people to accept risk is an inevitable part of the job – this isn’t the case, the guidance is easily available to manage the risks and prevent injury.’

His advice is to think a job through and then put the right measures in place to make it safer.

He added: ‘On a more positive note, I’m really encouraged that there now some very high-profile advocates for improvement who see the real benefits for attracting and retaining people and reducing costs.

‘It’s fantastic to see a real focus on maintenance of machinery and trailers, that many ATV users are getting trained and wearing helmets, and cattle handling facilities are being improved.’

For more information on Farm Safety Week visit www.yellowwellies.org or follow @yellowwelliesUK on social media using the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek.