How dangerous is farming?
Charlotte Smith covered a campaign on the need to improve farm safety back in the late 90s, and yet yesterday she returned to cover the topic again on BBC Radio 4. Since then, actions have been taken to improve farm safety but the statistics aren’t changing. Farming is still the most dangerous job going. And we were reminded of that by the recent fatality of Broughshane farmer, James Gibson.
Farm safety statistics
- On average, 32 workers are killed in agriculture every year in Great Britain
- Farm workers account for just 1% of Great Britain’s workforce and yet it accounts for around 20% of workplace fatalities annually
- 33 people died across Britain in a twelve month period from 2017-2018
- Five people were killed in the agricultural industry in Scotland in 2018 alone
What are the dangers?
Luke Messenger (Agriculture Safety Sector, Engagement and Policy Division from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)) says that the majority of fatal cases have the same causes. There is generally little safety management in farms and a high level of complacency in relation to the workplace risks.
What are the biggest risks? The most common accidents involve workplace transport (such as quadbikes or tractors), falling from heights (for example working on fragile roofs or vehicles) and livestock injuries.
What is being done to make farming more safe?
There have been a number of campaigns and educational courses launched since the 1990s with the aim of making farms safer places to work. The HSE have also provided simple, unambiguous and free guidance on what a good farm looks like. And there are a number of other targeted resources available online.
Why isn’t this working?
Luke Messenger believes that the continued pattern in the statistics is the result of attitudes and behaviour. For example, we always put the handbrake on when we park and wear seat belts when we drive as every-day users of normal cars. However since 2003, 40 farm workers have been killed by their own vehicles running them over. The solution to avoiding these deaths is simple, Luke Messenger urges. What is needed is for the industry itself to become more engaged and involved, implementing theses messages in their day-to-day lives and work.
It is easy for experienced farmers to grow used to risks and become complacent when they ‘got away with it last time’. This can lead to farmers opting for less expensive, less time consuming and insufficient safety measures (or no safety measures at all!). The aim of current initiatives and campaigns is to influence the attitudes of young farmers. It is hoped that this will lead to a change in the attitudes of older farmers as well as ensuring safe future practice of these farms.
Courses provided at colleges (including Bridgewater and Taunton College in Taunton) are now teaching students to assess situations and challenge managers on safety if they don’t think it is safe. Teachers of these classes say that people are accepting agriculture as the most dangerous industry when it doesn’t need to be. They believe that the younger gens are learning, through courses like these which older farmers may not have experienced.
Of course other considerations for solving this problem are funding, fatigue and workplace loneliness.
What other industries does this apply to?
The message of this article also contains food for thought for all outdoor labour industries. In fact, HSE data shows that the construction industry has accounted for more workplace fatalities than farming.
Two farming conferences are taking place this January in Oxford: the Oxford Farming Conference and Oxford Real Farming Conference. We wonder if health and safety of our farmers will be discussed. Given the prevalence of workplace deaths and the importance of this industry both in terms of generating jobs and upholding the UK’s economic traditions and significance, we hope so! Our farmers and farm workers are valuable but they’re also normal people who deserve to work in safe and secure conditions.
Whether you are an outdoor labourer or farm worker looking for work, or manage an agricultural business, the Grafter community can help you to source workers.