How to Make Farming Safer

When we think of dangerous jobs or industries, we immediately think of construction, the military or nuclear power plants i.e. things that involve heavy materials, fast-moving machinery or tools, heights or weaponry.

However, there’s more to “dangerous” than meets the eye. There are many factors to consider before a job or industry can generally be labelled as being safe or unsafe. These include the integrity of the injury reporting systems in place, the type and level or reporting required, the number of innate risks in any given job and how you define accidents and fatalities.

British Safety Council

The number of accidents and fatalities also relate to the number of people employed by an industry, as well as the quality and degree of health and safety training employees have undertaken. In other words, the better trained employees are in health and safety, the less likely accidents will be to happen, irrespective of whether the nature and number of risks has changed.

Fatalities on the farm

Recent HSE statistics show that, in 2015/16 there were 27 fatalities in the agriculture industry, lower than the five-year average of 32. There are several possible explanations for this: long working hours, for example, may lead to a higher number of accidents because employees are exposed to risks for a greater time.

Hazards such as working outdoors in poor weather conditions at the same time as working with heavy machinery, dangerous chemicals and unpredictable livestock may also push the accident rate up.

Farming compared to other industries

Construction has the highest fatality rate, with 43 people fatally injured at work in 2015/16. Interestingly, out of the 43, 27 were employees and 16 were self-employed. Two members of the public were also killed.

Two workers were killed in mining and quarrying, compared to an average of four deaths for the previous five years.

And there were 27 fatal injuries to workers in manufacturing, 23% higher than the five-year average.

The figures vary every year, but the UK fishing industry has reported fatalities as high as 16 during 2006. A recent government report shows these figures have generally been in decline over the last decade, with 7 casualties in 2015.

The transport industry in general frequently makes the list for one of the most dangerous industries, but the question remains as to whether civilian fatalities (which somewhat distorts the statistics) contribute to make this the most ‘dangerous’ industry.

No industry is risk-free

We expect construction, agriculture and mining to come with a high level of risk, but other industries aren’t risk free. Believe it or not, those working in the hair and beauty industry often report a higher number of accidents than electricians, plumbers and police officers.

Jessica Willock, head of life insurance at Confused.com said, “The working world is a dangerous place for many Brits and it’s worrying to see so many people suffering injuries in the workplace. There are many industries out there where you may expect injury to be commonplace, but the fact that so many people were injured working in hair and beauty shows that injuries can occur in any working environment.”

While that may be generally true, it’s worth keeping in perspective; the degree of risk to farming employees is far higher and the impact of any injury is likely to be far greater than office or shop-based jobs.

How can we make farming safer?

Looking at the statistics, it’s clear to see that every industry and job comes with some level of risk. However, farming and agriculture are always going to be much more accident-prone than other industries precisely because of the nature of the industry: employees work outdoors in adverse weather with heavy machinery, dangerous chemicals and livestock. All the health and safety regulation in the world isn’t going to completely remove the possibility of at least a minor accident in those conditions.

That said, the research indicates that the number of workers – across industries - fatally injured over the last 20 years is in decline, although this trend has been levelling off in the last few years. This is could be due to several factors, but it’s good news for those working in high-risk industries. It also provides hope that even if we can’t remove all risk from the workplace, ways to make working environments safer for everyone can be found.

Education is key

Richard Evens, Commercial Director, from the British Safety Council, explains: “The way to make farming safer is to raise the level of awareness and understanding of the risks. It’s then essential to put in place the appropriate measures to reduce or, if possible, eliminate them. Those measures should include laws, regulations and guidelines, but a more practical and immediate solution is to make sure employees at all levels have attended a “working safely” IOSH training course. Education across the board is key because improving health and safety across an industry starts with every employee.”

British Safety council

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