The farming industry has a woeful 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. Statistics for 2020/2021 show there were 34 deaths in agriculture, forestry and fishing, an increase of 13 from last year. The five-year average for fatal injuries in this sector is 28.
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 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, which can lead to shortcuts or the neglect of safe practices. Some farmers can also be guilty of taking a perverse pride in the number of overtime hours they work. These factors, combined with what is sometimes a cavalier attitude to safety, is 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 RoW. This follows calls from the CLA, and rural groups, 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. This diversion 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.
- Farm Safety Week runs from July 19 to 23 and is run by Farm Safety Foundation