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Safety 6: risks for older farmers

Course: Health and Safety | Last Updates: 7th October 2015

Is farming an occupation or a way of life? The answer depends on your age, experience and family history.

What is clear is that farmers work long and hard and through thick and thin, whether they're still the driving force in the business or helping others in the family by sharing their skills.

stock handling
Livestock accidents are the biggest cause of farm deaths among the over-75s, so make sure your favilities are up to scratch

Recent research shows that the average age of farmers is 57, while on smaller farms the figure is 60. And it's a trend that is set to continue.

This means it is important for older farmers to recognise the risks they face and follow advice to protect themselves so they can farm safely throughout their working life.

What is killing the older farmer?

causes of farm accidents for older

Of the 439 deaths in agriculture over the past 11 years, 181 (41.2%) involved people over the age of 55. In fact, 20% of fatal accidents happened to those aged 65 and over – compared with 2% in all other industries.

We also know that accidents that happen to older workers tend to result in more serious injuries or deaths than might be expected.

Are you aged 56-65?

For those aged 56-65, vehicle accidents are the most common cause of death (26 cases), almost on a par with falls (25). These are closely followed by being struck by a falling or flying object, such as bales (16 cases).

Of the vehicle accidents, the highest number involved being hit by a vehicle while outside it (16 deaths). There were five deaths when a vehicle was moving forward and five involving runaway vehicles that were not being driven.

There were also seven deaths when vehicles overturned and three when farmers struck part of a vehicle while travelling in it.

Most falls were from a height (18 deaths), with just four occurring below 2m (6ft 6in) and three on ground level.

Are you aged 66-75?

For those aged 66-75, the most common cause of death remains moving vehicles (18 cases), followed by livestock (10) and then falls (eight). Accidents involving livestock are common over the age of 66, making up 22% of accidents.

Most of the vehicle accidents again involve farmers being struck while working around them (16 cases), including five runaway vehicles and two deaths while reversing. However, overturning incidents drop from seven in the previous age band to two.

Of the falls, six were from height and the other two were low falls of less than 2m.

Are you aged over 75?

For those aged over 75, there are six work-related causes of death. The top four are livestock (nine cases), moving vehicles (seven), falls (six) and being struck by falling or flying objects like a bale (four).

The vehicle accidents, with one exception that involved an overturn, all happened when the farmer was outside the vehicle.

Two incidents involved reversing. Reversing accidents happen only to older workers, with just one exception to this in 11 years.

Of the falls, three were from height, two low falls of less than 2m and one on the level.

types of accident v age

In agriculture, the rate of fatal accidents for men aged over 55 is 19.4 compared with 9.4 for age 35-54 and 3.7 for those below 35. These figures show that older farmers are being killed in greater numbers than we would expect. This is especially true for accidents with vehicles, falls and handling livestock.

 old mf machinery
If you were farming when these machines were launched, you could be in danger, says the HSE.

Time for change?

Farmers spend their life adapting to the changes needed on their farms or in the work they do. But what some farmers believe are health problems linked to their age may actually be caused by the way they work.

Small changes can make a big difference. Think about lifting – how many farmers have spent years lifting a gate to go through it instead of fixing it?

Strains that you assume are just part of getting older may be down to the way you have done some jobs for a long time. In a way, this is good news because you can adapt and change to make the job easier.

Top tips for safer farming

  • Controlling risk is no different for older farmers than for any others. If you fit into one of the age groups above, then you now know what is most likely to cost you your life or injure you badly if you don't act to control the risk.
  • Make whatever physical changes you can to remove or reduce hazards. This might mean better lighting in barns or other buildings, and gates that are easy to manoeuvre.
  • Plan carefully any work that must be done at height. Farmers often come to grief because they do not establish a safe way to get to and from a roof to mend it or use ladders that are damaged. Make sure you have the right equipment for the job and have worked out a way to do it safely.
  • Use vehicles that are well maintained and avoid carrying passengers. Think about whether your vision is such that you should drive big machinery only in daylight hours.
  • Farmers can be exposed to a lot of noise over the years, and this can be compounded by a natural loss of hearing as you age. Take care when working around vehicles and make sure the person driving it can see you.
  • Well-designed livestock-handling arrangements will help manage the risk that comes with dealing with unpredictable animals. Make those physical changes where you can.
  • Get feed or materials delivered to the place where you want to store them. If this is not possible, try to move them using a machine rather than handling them yourself.
  • If taking prescription medication, check whether the effects might reduce your alertness or interfere with your ability to do a particular job.
  • Each year, take time to check your fitness and decide what you want to tackle and what changes you are going to make to ensure you can do so safely.

Impact on the next generation

By adapting and taking action, older farmers can lead by example and improve the safety of all those working and living on the farm Ð not just for themselves, but for the next generation.

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