If any further evidence was needed that we work in a particularly hazardous industry, recent fatality notifications from the HSE confirming that more than 40 people in the UK lost their lives to accidents in 2020 deliver a sharp and painful reminder. The latest statistics represent a substantial increase in fatalities compared with the previous year and demonstrate that there is still much more work to be done to improve health and safety practices on the farm.
While farming can be challenging and incredibly rewarding, it can also be a dangerous business. Agriculture accounts for 1% of the UK economy but around 20% of all workplace deaths – a stark illustration of just how dangerous it can be. Every life lost represents someone’s husband, wife or partner, father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister; it affects family and friends alike who are left to deal with the trauma, stress and anxiety that comes with losing a loved one in such tragic and, in many cases, avoidable, circumstances.
With snow and ice carpeting much of the country at the time of writing, everyone who works on a farm needs to take even more care, especially when working around potentially dangerous machinery, as well as vehicles and livestock, or when working at height or close to pits and silos.
Recommendations made by the HSE to mitigate the risk of slips and falls associated with wintry weather include identifying outdoor areas most likely to be affected by ice, for example: building entrances, farmyards, walkways, shortcuts, sloped areas and areas constantly in the shade or wet, and then gritting accordingly. Alternatively, consider covering walkways with an arbour high enough for people to walk through, or use an insulating material on smaller areas overnight, or divert walkways to less slippery paths and barrier off existing ones.
It is farm machinery however, which remains one of the greatest areas of concern all year round in terms of risk. And yet it also offers the greatest potential for improvement if people take more time and care to establish ‘good practice’ around machinery to the point where it becomes routine.
Think safety first
Good practice extends beyond checking that the brake is on, the engine is off and the key removed when getting off the tractor or wearing a helmet when riding on the quad bike. It’s about making sure that machinery is properly maintained and checking that guards and other safety devices are fitted correctly and in good condition. It’s about paying attention to hitching and attachment points to check they are securely locked in place. It’s about making sure that machine operators are properly trained, competent to do the job safely and have the proper clothing, footwear and, if necessary, PPE – and much more besides.
Perhaps most of all, it’s about having the right mindset – paying close attention to what we are doing, slowing down a bit, and resisting the temptation to rush or even cut corners when we’re under pressure to get jobs done. It’s about thinking and putting ‘safety first’ at all times. With safety at the forefront of our thoughts we can prevent many ‘waiting to happen’ accidents, reduce the number of serious injuries incurred as a result and save lives.
There’s a plethora of resources and good advice out there covering all aspects of health and safety on the farm. Links to some of the most useful can be found in an earlier article on safety that we published in September last year. Here’s the link.