Pictured above: NFU delegates don #SeeItChangeIt hi-vis tabards for the farm safety session
Tragically, on average, there are 32 deaths each year in agriculture. There’s little new about the causes (from contact with machinery to being struck by a farm vehicle), but most are avoidable if attitudes and behaviours change.
This was one of the stark messages delivered at an NFU conference session looking at both traditional health and safety on-farm, but also wider wellbeing and stress.
The discussion came as the NFU also launched its #SeeItChangeIt campaign – a move to improve safety and wellbeing on farms, with each delegate given a campaign branded hi-vis jacket to foster further discussion at the event and beyond. The campaign aims to get farmers and growers actively looking for risks on farm, and using simple and cost-effective ways to eliminate them.
Rick Brunt, head of agriculture at the HSE and behavioural scientist Matt Carter also unveiled some of the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) latest research, profiling farmer behaviour and attitudes to the issue (see below).
- Planners – who are most risk averse, but feel safest and most able to manage risks – and have fewest accidents
- Pragmatists – least worried about risk and consequences, but display relatively safe behaviours
- Risk-takers – most likely to enjoy risks and their behaviour reflects this, but worry about consequences
- Unclear – those who feel least safe and have most accidents, but also seem unclear what to do to mitigate risks
Crucially, the HSE say, there cannot be a one-size fits all approach to health and safety guidance. Farmers are likely to differ in both how they access information, who they trust to deliver it, and the nature of the advice. Delegates heard how farmers mostly trust fellow farmers, national farming organisations and the HSE, but are least likely to trust non-farming family members and lawyers. Risk takers are more likely to respond to stark warnings, pragmatists most likely to practical advice on the better management of risk.
Although there have been some positive signs in farm accident rates in recent years, the HSE and NFU reiterate that persistence and good communication remain key, as is the active help of the entire farming industry.
Nottinghamshire farmer John Charles-Jones spoke for many in the room when he described the gathering as a “coming of age for the industry”, with hundreds of farmers willing to openly discuss the issue and become ambassadors for cultural change. This was a sentiment echoed by NFU farm safety adviser Thomas Price who added that: “there is nothing inevitable about accidents.”
Also speaking was Nuffield scholar Arun Naik who looked at some of the causes and solutions behind rural stress and depression, with overwork and isolation identified as two of the leading causes.
This was a theme picked up by NFU President Meurig Raymond who said: “It must also be noted that the mental wellbeing of farmers is just as important as physical safety. Stress and depression are among many other illnesses that can massively impact your life and work, and we must be able to recognise when we need help.
“The NFU urges farmers to get behind the #SeeItChangeIt campaign by filling out a Promise Card – tweet us, stick it on your fridge or simply keep it on your bedside table – but use it to make one change that will improve your own wellbeing and that of the farming industry.”
Adam Bedford, NFU North East Regional Director:
Rick Brunt, Head of Vulnerable Workers, Agriculture and Waste Recycling Unit, Health and Safety Executive and Thomas Price, NFU Farm Safety Adviser:
Matt Carter, Head of Behavioural Insight and Evaluation, Health and Safety Executive:
Aarun Naik, Counsellor /psychotherapist and Nuffield Farming Scholar:
Q&As from this session: