The rise and falls of farm safety

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Contrary to the popular image of fresh air and peaceful surroundings, a farm is not a hazard-free work setting.

Every year, thousands of farm workers are injured and too many die in farming accidents. In fact, despite the promising news that there is some behavioural change occurring in the industry, agriculture continues to have the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK.

Farming carries an above-average risk of falling accidents. Farming, forestry and horticulture employ about 1% of the national workforce but the risk of falling from heights or being struck by a falling object account for nearly 30% of all farming fatalities, which only demonstrates that ‘Falls’ must remain high on the list of farming risks to be managed.

According to Barclay Bell, President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union and NI Farm Safety Partnership member: “Any fall from height can lead to long term injuries and make it difficult to keep on farming.

“Most accidents of this type happen either because the work is not properly planned, the risks are not recognised, proper precautions are not taken, or the equipment used is either defective, not appropriate, or used incorrectly. According to Voice of the Farm research carried out this year half of all farmers claim to take risks. I am sure many believe it will ‘only take a few minutes’, and take risks in the hope that simply being very careful will be enough.”

Whilst working at heights is always a risky business, there are several things which can be done to minimise those risks.

The following is a checklist to help prevent falls from heights:

- Have I thought about the best way to get up to the job?

- Can I use a cherry-picker or a materials handler (including a fork lift)?

- Do I have a suitable cage or platform attached to the machine?

- Have I done everything I can to avoid using a ladder?

- Is the ladder in good condition, rungs and stiles sound?

- Is it long enough, reaches to at least 0.9m above the stepping off point?

- Can it be tied or footed?

- Is the roof material fragile eg asbestos cement sheet?

- Have I got crawling boards or staging to cover the asbestos cement by bridging the joists?

- Can I avoid stepping on the roof-lights?

Remember – you can either fall off or through the roof of a farm building!

“It is human nature to think ‘it won’t happen to me,’ but unfortunately it can, especially if we continue to take risks, whether major or minor,” says Stephanie Berkeley from the Farm Safety Foundation, the charity behind Farm Safety Week.

“Taking preventative, proactive measures is one of the best things we can do for our farm and workers. Most preventative practices are common sense.

“Tragically, most accidents are caused by simple factors such as habit, haste, fatigue, and improperly maintained machinery.

“This week, we hope that by hearing from families about their experiences, we can persuade farmers of all ages that this week, and every week, farm safety is a lifestyle, not a slogan.”

For more information on Farm Safety Week visit www.yellowwellies.org or follow @yellowwelliesUK on Twitter/Facebook using the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek