What can you do to make your farm safer?

Eleanor Kay ,
19 Jul 2019

Eleanor Kay is Scottish Land & Estate’s policy advisor for agriculture and forestry. Here, during Farm Safety Week, she explains some simple tips that all in the farming sector should adopt to make our farms safer places for you, your family and those who work for you. 

It’s no secret that, compared to other sectors, farming has one of the poorest safety records. However, it’s something we’re all guilty of ignoring until the worst happens closer to home. The latest Health and Safety Executive data on annual fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing for 2018/2019 show that in the UK there were 39 fatalities, 13 of which were in Scotland, compared to 8 in 2017/2018. In 2018 it was estimated that 13,000 workers in agriculture, forestry and fishing sustain an injury at work each year. 

Farm Safety Week

Farm Safety Week (15-19 July) is run by the Farm Safety Foundation. The ultimate aim of the Foundation is to have zero avoidable deaths on our farms. To achieve this, the Foundation works closely with partners in the industry to engage, educate and communicate strong and relatable farm safety messages. 

As we come to the end of Farm Safety Week, we must all consider their question, who would fill your boots? If you were out of action for harvest or lambing, let alone involved in a fatal or life-altering accident, who would take your place? The answer to that question can be daunting, but without a conscious effort to prioritise safety it could become a very real situation. We all know what the causes of farm deaths and injury are; livestock, machinery & equipment, and falls from height. Knowing this hasn’t led to the sector-wide behavioural and attitude changes that we need to see. 

This year’s Farm Safety Week has the following objectives

  • preserve and protect the physical and mental wellbeing of all those working and living in the farming community
  • encourage those in the industry to stop and think about their safety and wellbeing whilst working and living on farms and build personal and business resilience 
  • highlight good safety practices and share positive stories about living well and farming well
  • encourage action in the industry to drive a real behavioural change.

Mental Health

Physical injury is not the only risk of farming: long hours, time pressure and solitary working all impact on our mental health. As an industry, we have a collective responsibility to do something about the issue of poor mental health and the risk of suicide. Increased understanding, and discussions around mental health will, in time, reduce the discrimination experienced by those who have mental health issues. Help is available and more information can be found on the Yellow Wellies website.

What can you do?

Fatal accidents are often forewarned by non-fatal accidents and near misses. Whilst all accidents on a farm should be recorded, this often isn’t the case and near misses tend to go unreported. Learning from these events offer the best chance to reduce the risk of fatal and non-fatal injury. 

As with many great challenges, the best way to start is by prioritising the risks and tackling the most pressing issue. Dealing with things one issue at a time makes it more manageable. It might start with wearing a hi-vis in the yard during harvest and encouraging the use of location sharing amongst the team.

By systematically dealing with the risks one by one your farm will become a safer place for you, your family, the people who work for you and visitors. 

Some tips

ATV Safety- Historically seatbelts in cars were viewed as optional, but we know better now. The same can’t be said for helmets on All-terrain Vehicles (ATV) and Utility Vehicles (UTVs) Too often in ATV accidents, “no helmet worn” is recorded as a contributing factor to the resulting injuries. Of course, a helmet can’t protect you from everything but why wouldn’t you protect your most valued asset! As a student I had a nasty ATV accident whilst lambing which resulted in a fractured wrist and a very sore head. A helmet wouldn’t have saved me from a fracture, but it would have reduced the hours spent having scans in A&E.

Lone Working- Farm work can involve a large amount of isolation and poor phone signal can make it even harder to stay connected. Location sharing for lone workers can be done via a phone application or more sophisticated personal alarms - there are systems to suit all types of work and ones which don’t rely on mobile phone signal. 

First Aid Training- Working in rural locations can mean the emergency response has a long distance to travel. Having staff trained in first aid and a fully stocked first aid kit could make all the difference in the event of an accident. Knowing the grid references for buildings or using what3words to pin point an exact location could also help. 

More information can be found on the Farm Safety Foundation, the Forest Industry Safety Accord (FISA) and the Health & Safety Executive