Farmer Focus: We must set ambitious farm safety targets

As farmers we seem to have a love for attention-grabbing statistics. You know the sort of thing – record auction prices, massive milk yields and whopping tractor horse powers.

However, there is one number none of us can boast about – or ignore – and it is the number of fatalities that still occur among people working on UK farms.

A recent tragic accident that cost a caring professional livestock haulier his life while working at an East Anglian pig farm has, in the cruellest of ways, reminded me of the danger to life we face every day working in agriculture.

About the author

Rob McGregor
Livestock Farmer Focus writer LSB Pigs runs 1,550 sows in two outdoor herds to produce weaners under a contract agreement. Rob manages the operation which fits into a barley and sugar beet rotation on rented land near Fakenham, Norfolk.
Read more articles by Rob McGregor

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I now know five people personally who have been killed while working on farms. That’s a shocking statistic, and with average death rates in agriculture still running at more than 30 a year, there will be plenty more of you with similar stories to tell.

Thirty years ago, the fatal accident rate for every 100,000 farmworkers made farming about as dangerous as a building site. While construction sector fatalities have significantly dropped, agriculture now accounts for 20% of workplace deaths, yet only accounts for 1% of the total UK workforce.

The Health and Safety Executive publishes a comprehensive report every year, which details the causes, trends, employment status and geographical areas of all the fatalities on farms.

Farmers over 55 account for half of all deaths, while the youngest have the lowest death rate. Older farmers might be less risk-conscious and more complacent when doing repetitive tasks. Younger people could be trained better. Quite possibly, it’s as simple as ageing and physical fitness. If you didn’t hear or see the impending danger, you’re less likely to escape harm.

There are some great initiatives in place, such as the Farm Safety Foundation – known to many as Yellow Wellies – and @farmsafetyhour on Twitter, with which we should all get involved. We have adopted the and MeritAgCheck apps across all our machines and vehicles. Both are proving very worthwhile.

Perhaps the key thing is to start the farm safety conversation as often as we can, at all levels, introduce demanding targets and dramatically improve our attitudes to managing risk, just as the construction companies did successfully 20 years ago.