Make it safety first during harvest

Wheat harvest Tom Martin farm_64361Farmers are being urged to have a safe and successful harvest this year by taking simple steps to protect themselves, their families and their staff.

Although the next few weeks will be the busiest time of the year for arable farmers, a key message from NFU East Anglia’s latest health and safety webinar is: ‘don’t rush’.

NFU Student & Young Farmer Ambassador Eveey Hunter said: “We don’t do rushing. It’s more important to get home safe at the end of the day.

“We never use the phrase ‘hurry up’ on the farm. I just think it’s like handing someone a death sentence when we are working with big machinery in a stressful environment. For someone to feel they have to hurry up is so dangerous.”

SYFA2020 - Eveey Hunter_74719

Sharing safety tips on social media

Eveey was one of three speakers at the event, which was attended by more than 50 farmers and chaired by NFU Essex County Chair Christy Willett.

Eveey set out how health and safety is approached on her family farm in Hertfordshire and how farmers can use social media to promote both farm safety and a positive image of the industry.

In April, she sat down and wrote out five safety tips, which she then posted on social media. The list includes working to divert a footpath from the farmyard to an alternative, safer route, arranging a pre-harvest meeting with all staff and fitting phone mounts to all tractors to discourage drivers from making calls with the phone in hand.

“It took me five minutes and it was just ideas that were in my head. If all farmers took time to write down what they could or should be doing it will encourage others to do the same,” she said.

Simple steps to a safer farm - watch the webinar
30 safety improvements in 30 days

NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts set out how he had pledged to make 30 health and safety improvements on his farm in 30 days, after he was inspired to improve safety following a presentation at NFU Council.

“One of the changes we made was to make sure there is a mobile phone cable in the office so no one has an excuse for not having their phone charged. The mobile is arguably the most powerful health and safety tool we have but it can also be the most dangerous when used by people in tractors driving down the highway filming themselves,” he said.

“For me the 30 changes didn’t make the difference. What made the difference was that for 30 days we spoke about health and safety, for 30 days we did something. And that changed the culture on the farm. We are still conscious of health and safety now, 5000-plus days later.

“That’s the problem we have in this industry – it’s the culture and we are just rubbish about it. We are talking to the same people about health and safety. The real challenge is how do we get our neighbours and colleagues, who are not engaged in this, to engage.

“We all have to take ownership of this but we also have to get every member of the NFU taking ownership of this. We have to capture that other audience.”

Gordon Paice_77190

"I got it wrong 15 years ago"

NFU Hertfordshire Chair Gordon Paice spoke about how he had made a mistake 15 years ago that left him with a serious injury.

“I got it wrong 15 years ago. I put my arm into a running potato harvester. I spent 40 minutes with my arm wrapped around a shaft before someone found me and stopped the machine,” he said.

“I have two steel plates and 14 screws inside my arm and I can tell you when it is going to rain from how my elbow reacts.”

Gordon, farm manager for Gilston Crop Management, set out how he approaches harvest every year, beginning by telling new starters that he wants them to enjoy their time on the farm but, most importantly, he wants them to go home safely.

All staff are issued with a harvest pack that is a mixture of essential information, such as emergency contact numbers and crop plans, and key items such as gloves, dust masks, ear plugs and sunscreen. The pack also includes padded baseball caps, with their name on it, and high visibility polo shirts, produced in two-tone orange and blue.

Health and safety briefing for staff

Staff are also briefed on what to do in an emergency, such as not to tackle a large combine fire and not to confront hare coursers but to call the police on 999 instead.

Gordon said: “Just before we start harvest we have a pre-harvest meeting with all the staff and partners in the business. I give a small presentation about what we have to do and then bring in an external person to talk about health and safety.

“I find this works better and people listen more. We then have quite an open discussion talking about a number of areas but mainly responsibility. We have created a group WhatsApp so everyone knows about everything that is going on.

“With responsibility, it’s important to get across to the younger members of the team that they have as much right to tell anyone else about health and safety, they must not be scared. It might be one of the owners, or a visiting agronomist who has parked their car in a dangerous place. They must not be reticent about saying something.”

He stressed the importance of ensuring farm workers are refuelled during harvest, as well as the farm machinery, allocating staff time during the working week so they can stock up on essentials. He also organises a hot meal to the field once a week, an opportunity for everyone to get together.

Steps for a safe and healthy harvest
Advice from Casey Barker of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services:


  • Make sure all staff complete induction training and keep a record that it has been done.
  • Make sure people are trained and competent to operate the machinery being used.
  • Prepare and share detailed field and yard maps showing risks on your premises.
  • Emphasise the importance of communication.

Vehicle operation

  • Wear a seat belts at all times.
  • Be visible – wear high-viz.
  • Remain vigilant – don’t be distracted by phone calls and manage worker fatigue.
  • Stick to safe vehicle speeds.
  • Follow the rules of the road.
  • Follow ‘Safe Stop’ procedure. 
  • Put the handbrake on, controls in neutral and turn off the engine before removing keys.
  • Look up, look out – understand and manage the risks posed by overhead power lines.
  • Keep children out of work areas, unless fully supervised.
  • Segregate pedestrians and vehicles in the yard.


  • Check and maintain vehicles regularly, including trailer brakes.
  • Always stop to investigate hot-running engines or bearings.
  • Regularly clean dust off vehicle hot spots to prevent fires.

Plan ahead

  • Make key numbers readily accessible.
  • Know the right emergency numbers to use.
  • Download What3Words to provide an accurate location.
  • In dry periods, keep a water-filled bowser on hand.