‘Death rates on farms can be cut’

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Death rates on farms across the UK could be halved by 2022. But the attainment of this goal will require agriculture to follow the lead set by the construction sector over the past decade.

These are the firmly held views of Sallyann Mellor, a lecturer in law at Staffordshire University.

The barrister told Farming Life that smaller farmers, working on their own, are more predisposed to accidents.

“Everyone is very aware of the mounting pressures on these people. Challenging financial returns, poor weather and the requirement to get more work done in shorter periods of time are all factors contributing to the escalating accident rate on farms,” she said.

“Britain’s farmers are almost 18 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average industrial worker, and the fatality rate is increasing.”

Mellor went on to explain that the types of agricultural accidents which occurred in the 1960s are still the main causes of injury and death today.

“It seems there has been little progress over the past five decades, and lessons are not being learned.”

“Although the Health & Safety Executive and the farming unions are all trying to raise awareness of safety issues, further lessons can be learned from the construction industry. This is a sector that significantly reduced its number of fatalities after implementing a continued professional development programme for everyone involved.

“If this approach worked for construction, then surely it could also work for agriculture.”

Mellor continued: “If farmers themselves won’t take the lead then the government’s Health and Safety Executive, which regulates safety at work, must change its approach to the industry.

“Things aren’t simple enough to be solved by top-down action alone. Change will also require a more collegiate approach across the sector. Either way, cultural change will be hard and will take time.

“Farming is one of the most dangerous industries, yet was a latecomer compared to other industries in terms of regulation. Although regulation and enforcement has increased over time, accidents and fatalities continue to rise and the same types of incidents reoccur time after time, demonstrating a failure in the system.

“While we understand that agricultural incidents can happen and will continue to happen, there is no legal requirement for farm workers to undertake any form of health and safety course or training.

“Regulations are in place, but they will only work if farmers understand them and take their time to put measures in place to prevent or at least reduce such horrific incidents.”

Looking to the future, Mellor believes that farmers must undertake certified health and safety training courses. She is also aware that agriculture is a heavily subsidised industry.

“Where money is concerned, the option of taking a carrot and stick approach to farm safety presents itself,” she said.

“Yes, it should be feasible to fine farmers found to be in significant breach of health and safety regulations from the get-go. This could be achieved by some form of claw back mechanism.

“The other approach that could be taken is to financially incentivise those farmers who are genuinely committed to attaining the highest health and safety standards within their businesses.

“These are decisions which the farming industry would have to make in tandem with government.”

Next week’s Balmoral Show will have a very strong health and safety theme. A case in point is the ABP group’s hosting of a workshop on day one of the event. This will provide survivors of farm accidents with an opportunity to tell their stories and to highlight just how devastating a farm accident can be for those directly involved.