A shocking rise in farm accidents has seen 41 people killed while working in agriculture during the past year.
Being struck by a moving or overturned vehicle was the most common cause of death during the 12 months ending 31 March 2021, according to figures published last month by the Health and Safety Executive.
It means agriculture continues to have the worst fatality rate among all main UK industry sectors. Farming employs less than 1% of the population but has an annual death rate some 20 times higher than the average non-farming occupation.
More than half of all workers killed on farms last year were aged 60 years or older. But people much younger also lost their lives. The youngest person killed was a two-year-old child, said the HSE.
HSE chief executive Sarah Albon said: “While the working world in which we now live has created new health challenges for workers and for those who have a duty towards them, safety must also remain a priority.”
She added: “Every loss of life is a tragedy. We are committed to ensuring that workplaces are as safe as they can be – and that employers are held to account and take their obligations seriously.”
The Farm Safety Partnership, which represents more than 30 organisations working across agriculture, said effective risk management and preventative measures could go a long way to reducing farm accidents.
NFU deputy president and partnership chairman Stuart Roberts said: “As an industry we are always learning from each other and we need to follow that learning mentality when it comes to health and safety.”
Action needed now
Mr Roberts said it was important for farmers to share their own experiences, ideas and examples of tried and tested safety measures. Doing so could help find solutions to a problem which wouldn’t go away on its own, he added.
On his own Hertfordshire farm, Mr Roberts said he was providing high visibility clothing to all staff and ensuring all workers were able to take sufficient rest breaks – including during harvest – to avoid fatigue.
He added: “I have also found it really useful to look at safety from a business perspective. We are the most valuable asset to our businesses, so our safety should be the priority.
“It’s time to turn the tide on farming’s poor safety record – with words, with actions and with change. So let’s use this week as an opportunity to inspire and learn from each other, to protect our businesses and, ultimately, to protect ourselves.”