This is my first column since returning from maternity leave and it is fair to say that a lot has happened in the time I have been away. I would like to thank my colleague Nick Sandford who has been at the CLA East helm in my absence and has been a regular contributor to this column.
There is one issue that was a concern before I left to have a baby and it remains one today. The issue is farm safety. A topic that was brought to the fore again recently during the excellent Farm Safety Week and it is something that should be a priority for us all.
The farming industry has a poor safety record, which stubbornly shows little sign of improvement, with sobering statistics presented each year. Agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury of the main industrial sectors. It is 18 times as high as the average rate across all industries.
There is no getting away from the fact that farming can be dangerous. The most common causes of death include falling from a height, struck by a moving vehicle, trapped by something collapsing/overturning and contact with moving machinery.
Farmers are often short on time, rushing from one job to the next, and working long hours which can lead to shortcuts of safe practices. These factors can be a dangerous combination. Newly-published research by the University of Aberdeen found that lapses in situation awareness, related to stress and fatigue, were factors that contributed to farming accidents.
It is not just farmers that can be at risk on farms and each year there are cattle-related incidents involving members of the public walking on farmland with and without dogs. The impact of the global pandemic with more people accessing the countryside has only heightened this risk.
Farmers and landowners should look to mitigate the risk of these incidents by carrying out risk assessments when contemplating where to graze their cattle, particularly on fields accessible to the public via a right of way. Signage can help improve public awareness and electric fencing can separate cattle from the right of way.
The CLA, and other rural groups, have called for an amendment to the Highways Act 1980 which would improve safety on the public rights way of network following a spike in livestock-related deaths. Enabling farmers to temporarily divert public rights of way where livestock are present would help reduce the risk of further serious incidents happening to visitors in the countryside and allow farmers to operate their businesses safely and effectively.
We need to change the industry attitude to safety and make sure it is built into the mind-set of every farmer, who continually assess and evaluate the risks they and others are exposed to as they go about their day.
Farm safety is not just important on one week of the year but should be central to everything on every day of the year. “Come home safe” should be the message all farmers give themselves as they leave the breakfast table.
We must also not neglect the mental wellbeing of those who live and work in the countryside. In these particularly difficult times it is important to reach out for help if you are struggling to cope as well as normal. There are some excellent organisations such as YANA, R.A.B.I and The Farming Community Network that are here to help at times of difficulty. On its website YANA has a directory of regional, national and membership organisations which can provide support, advice and guidance to farming and rural communities.
Let’s ensure we stay safe and look after ourselves and each other now and in the future.