In the last 10 years, almost one person a week has been killed as a direct result of agricultural work and many more have been seriously injured or made ill by their work.

Just over one in 100 workers (employees and the self-employed) work in agriculture, but it accounts for about one in five fatal injuries to workers.

So, responsible farmers and employers recognise the benefits of reducing incidents and ill health among their workers, and are aware of the financial and other reasons to aim for and maintain good standards of health and safety, pointed out the Health and Safety Executive.

Health and safety is a fundamental requirement of a sustainable farming business and should be regarded as an essential part of farm business management. Unwise risk-taking is an underlying problem in the industry and those working on their own are especially vulnerable, it added.

The personal costs of injury and ill health can be devastating. Life is never the same again for family members left behind after a work-related death, or for those looking after someone with a long-term illness or serious injury caused by their work.

Managing risks in a sensible way protects you, your family, your workers and your business.

Farming is a hazardous industry. Farmers and farm workers work with potentially dangerous machinery, vehicles, chemicals, livestock, at height or near pits and silos, and are often exposed to the effects of bad weather, noise and dust. Agricultural work can be physically demanding and the repetitive nature of the work causes a range of health problems, including severe back pain.

With high numbers and rates of fatal injury, agriculture, forestry and fishing are amongst the riskiest industry sectors.

The total annual cost of injuries (in farming, forestry and horticulture) to society is estimated at £190m and around two-thirds of that is due to reportable injuries (£130m), with fatalities accounting for around another third (£55m).

The most common causes of

death are:

  • Transport – being struck by moving vehicles;
  • Being struck by a moving or falling object, eg bales, trees etc;
  • Falls from height;
  • Asphyxiation or drowning;
  • Contact with machinery;
  • Injury by an animal;
  • Being trapped by something collapsing or overturning;
  • Contact with electricity, nearly two-thirds of which involves overhead power lines (OHPLs).
  • There are many more injuries which do not result in death and fewer than half of reportable injuries to workers across all industry sectors are actually reported each year, but the level for agriculture, forestry and fishing is much lower.
  • Surveys suggest that of those injuries to workers in agriculture (the most serious) which should be reported by law, only 16% are actually reported.
  • HSE estimates that there could be as many as 10,000 unreported injuries in the industry each year. Each one involves costs to the injured person and to the business.
  • Many of those in the industry do not consult their doctor unless seriously ill and so levels of ill health are unclear. However, in agriculture:
  • About 12 000 people suffered from an illness which was caused or made worse by their current or most recent job;
  • Musculoskeletal injury (back pain, sprains or strains) is over three times the rate for all industries;
  • The number of people affected by asthma is twice the national average;
  • About 20,000 people are affected by zoonoses (diseases passed from animals to humans) each year.
  • Workers may be exposed to extreme heat, cold, high humidity and radiation from direct and prolonged exposure to the sun (all of which imposes stress on the worker), plus they may also be exposed to excessive vibration, noise, or may have to work in uncomfortable positions for long periods and handle a wide range of chemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides.

Risk assessment?

  • A ‘hazard’ is anything that might cause harm, such as working from ladders or electricity. The ‘risk’ is the chance that someone could be harmed by these hazards.
  • Follow these five steps:
  • Spot hazards by walking around your workplace and watching how people work.
  • Learn from experience. Think carefully about any past accidents or illnesses as these can help you pick out the less obvious hazards.
  • Ask people who work for you what they think. They may have spotted something you have not noticed.
  • Check the manufacturers’ instructions for equipment or data sheets for chemicals to help you spot the hazards.
  • Don’t forget to think about long-term health hazards as well as the more obvious safety hazards.