16 March 2001


Farmers are worried sick about foot-and-mouth disease. So worried, in fact, its

understandable that some of the day-to-day farming issues get overlooked. So now,

more than ever, its important to remember safety. Tim Relf asks the HSEs chief

inspector of agriculture Linda Williams how to reduce our industrys death toll

ONE a week – thats how many people are typically killed in farming and forestry. One a week.

That upsets Linda Williams (pictured right). It upsets her that four children die every year on farms. Upsets her, too, that behind the death toll there is a catalogue of near-fatal and less serious accidents. And shes heard, all too often, the words of those left behind: "I would give everything if I could just turn the clock back."

So think ahead, says Mrs Williams. Think ahead and you might not need to want to turn the clock back. "There are so many accidents where, with just a moments thought, it neednt have happened."

People often start a task without a clear plan, she says. Think the prospect through – even for seemingly innocuous tasks. And plan ahead. "Think about how you are going to clean out gutters and fix the roof, for example, before you have to do it and need to cobble something together."

Think through all the possible risks. You may recognise, for example, that walking on a fragile material is dangerous – but may forget that at height a sudden gust of wind can cause an accident even if youre on a safe part of the building.

Similarly, people may appreciate that vehicle movement is dangerous but may not realise what they can do to reduce it – like fencing off danger areas rather than relying solely on constant driver vigilance.

One of the main danger areas is moving vehicles and can relate to poor maintenance – again, often seemingly-simple aspects. "It can be as crude as, yes, well, the rear view mirror broke ages ago and we havent got round to repairing it."

If a machine works its tempting, she says, for it to be used. And there are always those people who know the risk but take it anyway. Those that are sometimes heard to say: "I always make sure its me that uses this piece of kit because its a bit dangerous."

"Thats the scariest thing Ive ever heard," says Mrs Williams, "that someone recognises that its dangerous yet still takes the risk themselves. Do people have an inbuilt belief that they are invincible!"

Another factor in farming is that youngsters and older people – who wouldnt be present in a factory environment – may be on site. "Theres not the same distinction between home and work as in other professions. The farm is an extension of the home."

The industry also has lots of people above what is considered the normal retirement age. "Its not easy to stop ones elderly relatives doing what they have always done. In 1999/2000, fatal injuries among those aged 65 and over accounted for nearly a third of the total, according to the HSE.

And accidents involving the elderly are more likely to have serious consequences. "They could be killed as opposed to bruised."

Many of those involved in farming are self-employed so there isnt the same employer-employee relationship. Its not, therefore, like a factory where a large number of employees are doing a standard process and the rules – and their enforcement – can be systematic. "Farming is not one industry – it is lots of little industries."

This is borne out by statistics showing that, in the April 1999 to March 2000 period, more than half of those killed were self-employed, with 27% employees and 20% members of the public. The highest number of fatalities – at 33 – was in the mixed farming sector.

Mrs Williams stresses, meanwhile, that HSEs job is working with farmers. "Theres no difference between us as to what we are trying to achieve. Everyone wants to prevent fatal accidents."

She advises anyone who wants more information to look at www.open.gov.uk/hse/hsehome.htm or contact their local office. "We are not scary. We dont mind being asked. Wed rather give advice, rather than be there after the event."

Education and advice are key in all this – but alongside it will run tough enforcement, says Mrs Williams. "We are committed to making sure people know what the standards should be, but we are firmly committed to dealing with those that dont comply."

If someone puts their child at risk as part of the way they bring it up – let it play, say, near a motorway – the world would be furious if social services didnt do anything, she says. "We have, somehow, to stop kids getting killed on farms. Thats what every parent wants to see."

HSE Infoline: 08701 545500.


&#8226 Being struck by a moving vehicle.

&#8226 Falls from height.

&#8226 Being trapped by something collapsing or overturning.

&#8226 Being struck by a moving or falling object.

&#8226 Contact with machinery or a material being machined.

&#8226 Contact with electricity or an electrical discharge.

&#8226 Asphyxiation, including drowning in water, grain or slurry.

How dangerous

is farming?

For someone working in the agricultural sector for 20 years, there is a 1 in 568 risk that he or she will die as a result of an accident at work.