• Kenneth Cook

Farm Safety Week: The Issue of Safety in The Agricultural Sector

We have just reached the end of Farm Safety Week, led by the Farm Safety Foundation charity in collaboration with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The week was organised to spotlight the issue of safety in the agricultural sector.

How bad it the problem?

During the week, the HSE released its annual agriculture fatalities report and it makes sobering reading for anyone who works or employs people in the sector.

During the period covered by the report (April 2020 to March 2021), a total of 41 people were killed, making agriculture the sector with the highest number of workplace fatalities in Great Britain.

The number of deaths is 18 more than last year. More than half of the workers killed were over the age of 60 and the youngest person to die was a 2-year-old child.

The causes of death

An examination of the figures shows the areas where deaths occurred and the equipment, vehicles or other causes that led to those deaths.

  • 13 killed when struck by moving vehicles, including tractors and all-terrain vehicles.

  • 4 killed when struck by an object, including a hay bale, a concrete slab, a tree and a tree branch

  • 1 killed by asphyxiation in a slurry pit

  • 11 killed by animals, including cows and bulls

  • 3 killed by falls from height, including falling through a fragile roof

  • 1 killed by fire during a heather burn

  • 6 by contact with machinery, including an excavator bucket and a power take-off shaft

  • 1 killed by a grain trailer collapsing onto them

  • 1 involved a quad bike

Over half of all the fatal injuries (53%) were sustained by workers over the age of 60 (18 out of 34).

Of the total deaths, 25 were self-employed workers, the highest total for five years.

Sadly, it was not just workers who were killed – seven members of the public were included in the fatality figures, of whom two were children.

What can be done?

These figures are representative of a serious problem, but if approached sensibly, the risks can be controlled - mostly by just altering work practices.

There are five steps which any owner of a farm or agricultural business can consider to increase their safety, as well as that of their workers and the general public, who often have access to parts of the farm due to the existence of public rights of way and - in some cases - a tendency to wander where they are not supposed to go.

  1. Make a checklist of all potential hazards on site, including equipment, vehicles, electrical appliances and supply. The list should be checked frequently, and items removed if the potential hazards are adequately controlled.

  2. When vehicles and machinery are not being used, they should be turned off, even if they are only being left for a few minutes. The safe stop procedure should always be observed - handbrake on, all controls in neutral, turn off the engine and remove the key.

  3. The hazards from 1. should be prioritised with the most dangerous first, and all safeguards listed: e.g. vehicles and machinery – are all guards fitted and working, are all maintenance jobs completed and is the equipment safe to use?

  4. Let all staff know what hazards have been identified and how they are being controlled. On most, if not all, farms, there will be remote or lone working and therefore, there needs to be some way of raising the alarm if there is an emergency. Even if there is no emergency, a call system should be established so that contact is made every couple of hours. A missed call may mean nothing – or it could be a sign that something has gone badly wrong.

  5. Workers should always wear suitable clothing for the work they are doing. Casual clothes worn loose can easily be caught and pulled into machinery. Close-fitting overalls should be used to reduce this possibility. A high-visibility jacket or vest should be worn if work is going to be carried out early in the morning, at dusk or if working near traffic.

Good communication is key – farm and business owners should talk to their staff and share the findings of any risk assessments or other safety exercises. The suggestions of staff should be sought and considered – they know their job best, including hazards which might not ordinarily be considered.

Tool box talks can be held with staff so that the implementation of safe working procedures can be explained clearly. Farm and business owners will get more buy-in from staff if they understand the reasons behind a change in procedure. It can also be an opportunity for workers to highlight potential problems so that they can be addressed in good time.

Employees need to be aware that health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. If they see something is not safe, or suspect there may be a problem, they MUST report it so action can be taken. By the time a major incident occurs, it will be too late.

It’s important that staff are aware that they can be open and honest and report safety issues, with a ‘no blame’ culture in place. This will encourage a proactive approach to risk rather than the likelihood of things being kept quiet out of a mistaken sense of self-preservation.