The latest figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed farm deaths have almost doubled in the last 12 months, with 41 people killed on farms compared against 21 in the previous 12 months. Of those deaths, 34 were farm workers and seven were members of the public, including two children. To put this into context, the fatality rate in the agriculture sector over the last five years is almost 20 times as high as the all-industry average.
The acting head of agriculture at the HSE, Adrian Hodkinson, said that the figures reported were “disappointing” when the causes of farming accidents were well known and the precautions to avoid injury are straightforward. He highlighted that HSE investigations find “time and time and again that risks are not being removed or managed”, warning that “it is not acceptable that agriculture continues to fail to manage risk in the workplace”.
More than half of the workers killed were aged 60 or over and with an ageing demographic and challenges in attracting a younger workforce who are spurning the long hours, high workloads and associated lack of sleep, action clearly needs to be taken.
Farming is a hazardous industry with a myriad of risks including potentially dangerous machinery, moving vehicles, lone working, chemicals, large livestock, working at height or near pits and silos. It is already identified as a high risk sector and with this recent spike in deaths, it will continue to be a priority sector for the HSE.
The message from the HSE is that inspectors are seeing the same failings in relation to simple yet key safety measures that can be implemented to reduce injury such as applying handbrakes, fastening lap belts in cabs, wearing protective helmets on quad bikes and switching off power to vehicles or machinery when carrying out repairs. And training is at the heart of this.
The HSE’s agriculture sector intervention strategy is clear in its aim to tackle the high rates of injury and ill health and we can expect the HSE to take immediate action through effective targeting of inspection activities and maximising the reach and impact of investigation and enforcement activities.
Increased scrutiny in these areas can therefore be expected and where the HSE identify failings, action will be taken. That action could be on an advisory level but enforcement notices and even prosecutions cannot be discounted.
Businesses and individuals therefore need to be prepared for HSE inspectors to undertake unannounced visits and inspections. This will include having a clear understanding of their duties and obligations under health and safety legislation; undertaking risk assessments where appropriate to identify risks and control measures and recording any training and instruction provided to workers, including the self employed.