The Farm Safety Foundation is holding the ninth annual Farm Safety Week this week, aiming to draw attention to and reduce the risks faced by UK farmers on a daily basis, as new figures show farm fatalities doubled last year.
Long hours, intense physical labour, low pay and constant pressure from the elements makes agriculture a difficult industry to work in and yet nearly half a million workers choose to farm today. As a workforce it accounts for just 1% of Great Britain’s working population and yet accounts for nearly a quarter of all workplace fatal injuries, giving it the poorest safety record of any occupation. In fact, workplace fatalities in farming are almost twenty times higher than the GB industry average.
The picture is similar in Northern Ireland, where farming accounted for five of the 13 fatalities in 2020/21, according to the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI), representing 38% of total fatal workplace incidents. In the Republic of Ireland, farming accounts for 5% of the workforce but 40% of all workplace fatal incidents.
According to the Farm Safety Foundation, this is an issue rarely discussed outside of agriculture but one that needs to be brought into the public conversation.
This year’s Farm Safety Week comes as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shared its annual Fatal Injuries in Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing in GB report 2020/21, which revealed that over the past year almost twice as many people were killed on farms in GB compared to the previous year. Tragically, 41 people lost their lives across England, Scotland and Wales, including 34 farm workers and seven members of the public.
Two children were also killed by farming this year. A statistic that must improve.
Farm Safety Week
Now in its ninth year, Farm Safety Week brings together five countries over five days with one clear goal, to speak up for safety and encourage farmers to rethink risk so that the number of life-changing or life-ending incidents can be reduced.
“Agriculture is a vital part of our economy and everyone involved is rightly proud of the quality and standard of the food produced,” explained Adrian Hodkinson, Acting Head of Agriculture, Health & 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.”
He advised: “Think a job through and then put the right measures in place to make it safer. It is not acceptable that agriculture continues to fail to manage risk in the workplace. We need everyone to play their part to change their own behaviours, do things the right way and ‘call out’ poor practices whenever they are seen.
“On a more positive note,” Adrian added: “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.”
No risk is worth the risk
Throughout this year’s campaign, the Farm Safety Foundation, supported by the Farm Safety Partnerships, the Health & Safety Executive, Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and the Health & Safety Authority, Ireland, will highlight the issue of risk-taking, cost-cutting and tiredness on UK and Ireland farms, and how incidents continue to impact families and communities.
The Farm Safety Foundation will be meeting farmers who have experienced this first-hand and exploring what can be done to address it.
In a recent survey carried out with funder NFU Mutual, the Farm Safety Foundation found that many farmers need to be more aware of tiredness and realise how excessively long hours can play into the risks when farming. Almost seven in ten (69%) of those surveyed, identified tiredness as a major risk with most having taken, or seen others take, risks due to being tired.
Unfortunately, the Farm Safety Foundation, acknowledges that 15-hour days can be seen as normal in agriculture, with 89% of farmers wanting advice on how to combat fatigue. Across its social media channels, the Farm Safety Foundation highlighted top tips for dealing with tiredness, which included giving up alcohol for the two weeks before a busy period like lambing, staying hydrated or even grabbing forty winks after lunch. It will reveal the full list during Farm Safety Week.
Stephanie Berkeley, Farm Safety Foundation manager said: “Today’s HSE report is a desperately disappointing read with some very sober statistics. The fact that farming has a fatality rate almost 20 times the GB industry average is shocking and shameful. 41 people lost their lives on our farms over the past year including 2 children – this is 18 more than the previous year and we can’t become immune to the impact that these deaths have on farming families and communities. We can’t just accept that farming is a dangerous occupation. We have to redouble our efforts to drive a change.
“The main causes of fatal farm incidents have not changed over the past 60 years despite legislation and increased awareness of the importance of working safely.
“We need to reassess the risk of everyday tasks and think about the long-term consequences of each and every risk we have taken and do something to either remove it or control it. Complacency kills – many farmers think they know their farm and the risks involved in going about their daily tasks. However, those risks change day-to-day and next time things might not work out the same way. We want to encourage those living and working in the industry to rethink risk, to carry out risk assessments and most importantly put in controls that suit the circumstances of any busy farm.
“As an industry, we need to work together so that farm safety is acknowledged as important. We need to do more than sit around and talk about it. We need action! This is why Farm Safety Week is still so important. Over the past nine years, we have been very privileged to have an opportunity to bring together a wide range of organisations and individuals who really do care about the issue and want to drive safety forwards. We need to engage with farmers of all ages to challenge and change attitudes and ultimately make our farms safer places to work.”
More information about Farm Safety Week is available at www.yellowwellies.org or you can follow @yellowwelliesUK on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, or use the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek.