A Channel 5 docuseries about a family farming in northern England has been branded “irresponsible” and “disappointing” after a number of scenes appeared to show health and safety breaches.
Our Yorkshire Farm features husband and wife Clive and Amanda Owen and their nine children, aged between two and 17, working on the remote sheep farm in Swaledale.
Known as the Yorkshire Shepherdess, Amanda Owen has almost 48,000 followers on Twitter and has published two books about raising a family and a flock in the Dales.
See also: Rule reminder: Child safety on farm
The programme has attracted 1.6 million viewers each week and has been praised for sharing the realities of farming, close-knit family life, and the “free-range” children who happily live without game consoles and laptops.
The episode that aired on Channel 5 on Tuesday (11 December) featured the family’s struggles during the hot and dry summer.
However, on Friday (14 December) the workers’ union Unite raised many safety concerns over what was aired in the television series, which they described as “irresponsible”.
These concerns included:
- Children driving quad bikes without helmets
- Multiple passengers on bikes designed for a single person
- Children and toddlers riding on trailers without guardrails and riding in tractor cabs
- Children climbing and playing on hay bales.
Unite member and assistant farmer Matthew Belsey, who also serves on the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) agriculture industry advisory committee, said he was disheartened by the blatant risks and potential violation of health and safety laws on display.
“It’s really disappointing as a union to be working so hard to raise awareness about health and safety in the most dangerous industry in the economy – and then to see such risks and violations popularised on a TV show,” said Mr Belsey.
“I have children and young grandchildren and, as an experienced farmworker, I would never put them in risky situations like those shown on the programme.”
The union called the show’s producers irresponsible for “glorifying hazardous and potentially illegal practices”.
A Channel 5 spokesperson said: “Our Yorkshire Farm is an observational documentary, which offers a non-judgmental view of the realities of daily life across four seasons on a working farm, through the eyes of the Owen family.
“It has gone through a strict compliance procedure before being cleared to transmit on Channel 5. The show has proved to be very popular with our viewers, attracting an audience of more than 1.6 million viewers every week.”
Farmers Weekly has contacted the Owen family for a comment but has received no response.
Unite has notified the HSE about its concerns.
An HSE spokesman said: “We are aware of concerns raised about this programme, which potentially shows evidence of poor farming practices. In response to the concerns raised, we are making further enquiries.”
Many farmers and members of the public have also spoken out about it online.
Stuart Roberts, NFU vice-president and Farm Safety Partnership chairman, said he “couldn’t disagree with a single word” that Unite had published.
“Unfortunately I see too often the consequences of farming’s atrocious safety record,” he added.
“It is unacceptable for any farmer, farm manager or farm worker to carry out unsafe practices or take unnecessary risks on their farm.”
I agree completely. Just because you live on a farm doesn’t make it a playground. I know how painful it is to hang one less stocking every Christmas the only thing I can buy my son Harry is a wreath for his grave. https://t.co/8A31l1KN1S pic.twitter.com/RfPIAv2okx
— TILLY YOUR TRAILER (@tilly_trailer) December 16, 2018
A reply from the Tilly Your Trailer (a campaign set up in memory of 19-year-old Harry Christian-Allan who died in a farm accident) account agreed with Mr Roberts.
Mr Christian-Allan’s mother, Jane Gurney, said: “Just because you live on a farm doesn’t make it a playground. I know how painful it is to hang one less stocking every Christmas, the only thing I can buy my son Harry is a wreath for his grave.”
2/3 However no farm regardless of its size or complexities can disregard its basic duty with regards to #safety children on ATVs with no helmets, parents failing to demonstrate even basic safety behaviours or awareness is not acceptable #OurYorkshireFarm
— ECConsultancy (@ECConsultancyuk) December 13, 2018
Agriculture tops the list of workplace fatalities every year. Latest HSE figures show that in just 12 months from 2017 to 2018, 33 people were killed in farm-related accidents in the UK. Two were children, with the youngest just four years old.
One fatal incident recorded by the HSE over the years involved an eight-year-old girl who fell 3.5m while playing on a stack of bales and died from severe head injuries.
— Alan (@AlanPlom) December 15, 2018
Let’s talk child safety on farms…
The tragedy is that while farms are a magical place for children to grow up & learn about our industry, they are the ONLY workplace where children continue to die.
Keep them safe – keep them away https://t.co/wgbqsDF0az @H_S_E pic.twitter.com/JcsbyTtpzv
— Yellow Wellies (@yellowwelliesuk) December 16, 2018
Farm vehicle safety: What does the law say?
- Multiple passengers on bikes designed for one person are illegal.
- Only properly trained people should operate ATVs. They must wear the correct helmet, the machine must be in full working condition and they must be adequately supervised.
- It is illegal for ATVs to be driven for work by children under 13.
- It is illegal to have a child under the age of 13 ride in or operate farm machinery.
- Ensure all workers and those visiting the farm wear high-vis jackets.
- Keep young children off the farm.
- Do not allow children to ride in the cab of a tractor.
- Stop anyone from climbing bale stacks. Use machines to bring bales down.
- Protect open edges and pits so no one can fall. Keep children away.
Source: Yellow Wellies