How farm safety can be improved
James Chapman MBE
Farming is one of the most dangerous industries in the world. In the UK, 9.7 in every 100,000 workers employed on farms die each year. The next most dangerous UK industry is construction where the number of deaths is around 2.1 per 100,000 workers. Year after year the same accidents are occurring on British farms but the industry isn’t learning or evolving.
In 2005 I was involved in a life changing accident where I became entangled in a PTO shaft and lost my left arm. Since then I have used my story to help educate others in the industry. This led me to apply for a Nuffield Farming Scholarship to learn how best to change UK farming’s appalling safety record. I visited the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to try and bring together best practices in the field of accident prevention and discover why farmers are still having farm accidents in their pursuit of feeding the world.
I have learned that farmers don’t recognise risk to life in the same way other people do. As an industry we thrive on the risks associated with farming and relish the challenge of working in a dangerous environment. It must also be acknowledged that we have many pressures to deal with in farming, like time, finance and weather to name a few. As farmers we are very much multi-skilled. However, formal health and safety training isn’t one of the skills we possess, leading to a lack of understanding around the subject.
I’ve learned that any safety initiatives need to be led by farmers for farmers. Safety also needs to be practical and easy to carry out: farmers don’t have time for complex paper-based systems as the workplace is extremely dynamic. Safe practices need to be embedded in the minds of everyone involved in the business to allow autonomous safe working.
A culture change, which will take time but will have a longer lasting effect on the industry, is needed. To enable a culture shift strong and effective leadership is essential for us, both from our farming leaders and leaders in our own businesses. Farmers who can passionately promote safety should be identified to deliver peer-to-peer training on safe work procedures, and push clear and consistent messaging.
The use of independent auditors should be used to help farmers identify risks on farm to enable change. This could be done by farm assurance inspectors, insurance companies or even other farmers who can bring a fresh set of eyes to the workplace.
Agricultural colleges and universities must work on developing the next generation of safe farmers by integrating safety into every aspect of agricultural education to enable the long term goal of reducing accidents permanently.
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