Opinion: Older farmers more prone to on-farm accidents

We seem to have “startling statistics” and other revelations thrown at us all the time in this modern world of 24/7 media communication.

It’s transmitted to us via the plethora of devices by which we are constantly tuned in to the outside world.

Some of us used to take just a newspaper into the loo with us, but nowadays we can arm ourselves with enough electronic devices to check the Chicago Board of Trade and remotely pilot a crop-inspecting drone while in the squat position. It’s a wonder we don’t forget why we went to the smallest room in the first place.

Anyway, back to “startling statistics”. Did you know that, according to the HSE, over a third of serious accidents and fatalities on farms occur in the over-65 age bracket?

And this grim fact makes farming a wholly unique industry. At first you might find this surprising, but then you remember there probably isn’t a geriatric circus troop or a dangerous sports club for pensioners.

I shudder at the sheer stupidity I’ve managed to display over the years when it comes to my own safety on the farm. Guy Smith

But enough of the flippant jokes because this is an issue that everyone in our industry, both young and old, needs to take more seriously.

Like it or not, we work in an industry with an unacceptably bad safety record. We kill and maim ourselves through bad practice and carelessness.

Reading through the HSE reports, you cannot but be profoundly depressed that so much injury and death on farms could be avoided if people chose to slightly change their working practice. And I’m no one to lecture. I shudder at the sheer stupidity I’ve managed to display over the years when it comes to my own safety on the farm.

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When serious accidents happen to a young person, it is truly tragic for obvious reasons. It’s a future life taken away or blighted by death or injury. But if an old person is involved, should that in some way make an accident more acceptable? Of course not.

As anyone who grew up close to a grandparent will tell you, old people are very special and we should make sure they are around for as long as possible. We should cherish every moment we have with them and make sure they are not unnecessarily exposed to danger.

Above all, we should make sure they don’t willingly expose themselves to danger because there’s a sense they are somehow less valued than the younger people around them. And the older among us should always remember the example we are setting. The phrase “but never do it like this yourself” exemplifies the stupidest of attitudes.

While we rightly worry whether we have enough young people in our midst, the corollary of that should never be that there are too many old people in our industry. Everyone has their part to play. So maybe we need a safety campaign aimed at the older generation.

They can be an age group that can be difficult to reach. Quite possibly they think safety information isn’t aimed at them. The fact they don’t see themselves as a key audience is a bitter irony given the stats show they are disproportionately represented in the accident toll. Possibly younger people don’t think it’s appropriate to remind or lecture older people on the importance of staying safe. So everyone, young and old, needs to rethink their behaviour.

As we grow older, our reaction time and our faculties diminish. So it’s obvious why we might be more prone to accidents. Yes, as we age, we are supposed to get wiser and that should keep us safe. How come us farmers are the exception to this rule?

Guy Smith

Guy comes from a mixed family farm on the north-east Essex coast. Situated on the coast close to Clacton-on-Sea, the business is well diversified with a golf course, shop, fishing lakes and airstrip. He is vice-president of the NFU

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