In the last decade, around 1 person per week has been killed as a direct result of agricultural work. More have been seriously injured or made ill. This is a staggering human cost for what is seen as an idyllic industry. Many have visions of farmers gently ploughing the fields or milking cows bringing food to our tables. Most people would associate the manufacturing industry with danger but in reality the farming and agriculture industry is one of the worst offenders when it comes to Health and Safety.
Too often farmers and their labourers take risks to get the job done. There is a “get on with it” attitude and this can and does prove fatal. Farmers and farm workers work with potentially dangerous machinery, vehicles, chemicals, livestock, at height or near pits and silos. They are exposed to the effects of bad weather, noise, dust and a range of other hazards. The most common cause of injury is falls either from height or ground level.
The HSE position is that “Health and safety is a fundamental requirement of a sustainable farming business and should be regarded as an essential part of farm business management.” As in any business employee absence via injury has a huge effect on the business. This is more so in farms where margins are tight and the business revolves around a core group of employees, often related to one another.
The NFU are running a campaign entitled “Who would fill your boots.” We wholeheartedly support this campaign and would encourage farmers to think about this. It may take a bit longer or be more expensive to do the job safely but if you take the risk and it goes wrong the consequences are huge.
This goes for farm workers as well as owners. They are, for the most part, at the mercy of their employer for Health and Safety. The employer should ensure to encourage the same attitude throughout their workforce. Where employers fail in their obligations and workers are injured there is often a fear of claiming compensation. Given the tightness of the agricultural community there is usually a feeling that if the worker pursues their legal right then they will not be given any further work either on that farm or other farms. This attitude must be addressed. Not least because it means employees don’t get compensated for their injuries and wage loss and have to suffer on in financial difficulty but also because it spreads this “get on with it” attitude and leads to further breaches and further injuries. Employers must be held to account.
Further, whilst the NFU campaign is admirable they could do more. They insure many farms and, in our view, should visit each farm to assess their Health and Safety procedures prior to providing insurance. They are well placed to keep a check on Health and Safety and ought to do so as it is relevant to the risk they are insuring. Farmers may be convinced to increase H&S procedures in order to obtain better priced insurance policies. Perhaps some sort of incentive scheme would promote proper management of H&S. For example, a star rating system where those with 5 stars get a greater discount than those with 4. Perhaps all farmers would aspire to 5 star H&S standards. Perhaps grant applications and subsidies could also take account of this. Perhaps more farmers would be able to go home to their families…