Arable Farming: Staying safe this harvest

31 May 2021

Combinable crops

In the latest edition of Arable Farming magazine, NFU crops board chairman Matt Culley discusses farming's safety record and why farmers need to change their behaviour towards safety.

Read the full column here:

The recent spate of fatal farm accidents reported in the farming press has made for stark reading for all who live and work in our industry. As well as the most recent incidents it is anticipated that in July, when the HSE publish fatal accident statistics for 2020/21, the figures will show that around 45 people have lost their lives in farm workplace accidents. This is the highest annual figure for 25 years.

The statistics include farmers, farmworkers contractors and members of the public, and involve people well over retirement age as well as children.

In relation to other industries, agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatalities. It goes without saying that our first thoughts go to the families, friends and loved ones of those who have lost their lives on our farms, but our thoughts and actions must not end there.

Now is the time for all who work in our industry to take a good hard look at what we do and how we behave; to stop making excuses and change our mindset in relation to health, safety and wellbeing in our day-to-day working practices. 

The real sad truth is that the recent fatality figures will not show the whole picture of what happens on farm. They will not tell of the near misses or minor injuries that could have been more serious. Anecdotal stories would suggest that our industry has deep seated issues when it comes to risks being taken at work, and if we were to report the near misses and minor injuries and the instances in which they occurred it would make for pretty sobering reading.

Perhaps we need a national platform for farmers and growers to anonymously share such instances so they can be learned from? We need to help educate our industry as there are some parts of our industry really trying to make positive changes but other parts where it is simply not cutting through.

Industry representative organisations such as the NFU and Yellow Wellies are trying to raise awareness in health and safety – the NFU’s online Farm Safety Hub gives good practical advice based around accident prevention and also provides guidance on health and safety law alongside further advice from the HSE and NFU experts.

The hub centralises its advice around the most common causes of injury and fatality, including transport and machinery, working at height and working with livestock. Things as simple as following the Safe Stop procedure when getting out of a cab (engage handbrake, put controls in neutral, switch off engine, remove key) can save the lives of many – which I think we can all agree is worth the extra few minutes it takes to turn everything back on again.

And it’s not only those who work on our farms that we need to consider when addressing the risks of our working environment. Of course we have family who live on site and friends who visit to think of, but also those who visit the farm to carry out their own working duties such as agricultural merchant reps or machinery engineers.

The effects of our poor health and safety record have recently been stated to me by the AIC in discussions regarding on farm grain sampling for this coming harvest. The vast majority of merchants will no longer be sending out grain sampling personnel to our farms this year and health and safety risks are being cited as the main reason for this decision.

So for the second harvest running growers will be responsible for sampling their own grain in readiness for merchant collections. It is imperative for all growers to have grain sampling procedures in place so that it can be done safely and accurately and there is plenty of good guidance available from the AHDB, the NFU and merchant guidance for this to be achieved, so please use them.

With our busiest period fast approaching we all need to reflect and prepare with health, safety and wellbeing at the forefront of our minds. Because it’s not just about bad statistics – it’s about people’s lives, our own and those of our friends, family and colleagues.


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