REPORTS OF fewer deaths on farms was something to be welcomed during Farm Safety Week – however the industry has been urged not to get complacent.

This past week has marked the 8th annual Farm Safety Week – organised by the Farm Safety Foundation – which saw a number of industry organisations unite together to share key messages, case studies and important advice on how farming businesses should be addressing good safety practices on-farm.

Although the latest Health and Safety Executive figures show a dramatic decline in fatalities – with two being recorded in Scotland between April 2019 and March 2020, a drop from 13 the previous year – the Farm Safety Foundation believes there is more that needs to be done to educate both the public and the agricultural industry about the sheer dangers of the profession.

The SF caught up with the manager of the Foundation, Stephanie Berkeley, to hear why health and safety must remain a priority for farming businesses and to catch up on what Farm Safety Week had in store.

“Last year was particularly grim for Scotland with 13 deaths,” said Ms Berkeley. “Although figures have dropped considerably there is still nothing to celebrate as these two deaths have affected two families. Ultimately, we want to see no deaths and for there to be no reason to have this week or this charity.

“There has been a real push to prioritise health and safety messaging by organisations like NFU Scotland, off the back of last year’s worrying figures, which has promoted people to rethink their actions,” she continued.

“The union has been working hard to drive these figures down, working in association with the likes of SAYFC and RSABI. We know that farm safety and mental health are linked and RSABI are seeing an additional 30 phone calls from struggling families a month. Pressures facing farmers can affect their ability to farm safely so with added support and noise from the industry around this, we are beginning to see farm safety becoming more of a priority.”

Training the next generation

The Farm Safety Foundation has strong links with Scotland’s Rural College, and has been delivering training courses on health and safety to their students for a number of years. However, there are plans afoot to deliver new virtual reality training to students at Oatridge college in the near future which Ms Berkeley hopes will strike a chord with the younger generation and will deliver a more meaningful impact.

“It is so important to drive good behaviours into the industry at an early stage and this generation of young farmers are more aware of health and safety and see it as part and parcel of modern farming.

“We have been using cutting edge virtual reality training with students in England and Wales, which takes individual users into a farmyard situation where they are presented with different risks and how to overcome them. By the end of the year we want to deliver this in Scotland.

“We have an opportunity to hit those students once with something that is real, with something that resonates with them and we don’t want to miss that opportunity or let health and safety be seen as boring."

The Farm Safety Foundation has also been working closely with SAYFC to look at how they can deliver training to their club members and hope to do so on a peer to peer basis.

Ms Berkeley explained: “We want young farmers to train other young farmers in good practice and we will supply initial training, videos and real stories which will speak to the heart about past experiences. During Farm Safety Week we asked young farmers clubs to pledge to deliver health and safety training to all of their members.”

Recovering From Covid

For most farmers, coronavirus has put a stop to events, shows and social interactions across the country – the necessary breaks in the calendar which so many rely on to take a breather from all the hard graft.

Rural support services are in high demand to help those who are struggling, and Farm Safety Week has teamed up with rural charities to make sure their presence is known.

“This is a different year for everyone, so we took a different approach to the week. Farm safety and mental health is linked. If you get behind the wheel of a trailer when you are struggling, then you are more dangerous than a machine,” Ms Berkeley warned.

“Rural charities are gearing up for an influx in calls as farmers don’t have the release this year without events like the Royal Highland Show. They have gone from lambing to calving to silaging to harvest and straight on into winter. In the next couple of weeks, we will begin to see the pressure of this build and Brexit is now back on the table, with uncertainty only adding to their list of bothers.”

Farm Safety Week Focus

During Farm Safety Week farmers were urged not to get complacent in areas such as child safety and were told to buck up their ideas in terms of driver safety – with reports of young farmers behaving irresponsibly.

“On Wednesday we focussed on child safety as it is a massively emotional subject and sometimes people want to avoid talking about it,” said Ms Berkeley. “We know it isn’t a popular conversation, but three children were killed on UK farms in the last month and we need to address this.”

Ms Berkeley couldn’t say for sure if this was a result of lockdown, and more time spent on farms, but stressed that parents need to be reminded that farms are a dangerous place for kids.

Driver safety was a big topic of conversation during the week with reports of more and more young farmers using apps like ‘Tik Tok’ to share funny videos with friends. Ms Berkeley revealed that youngsters are sometimes going to dangerous lengths to show off to their friends and get likes.

“It’s 'Jackass' for the new generation. Last weekend I was sent a video of someone getting wrapped by a baler and another of two guys messing around on quad bikes doing tricks with no helmets on. This isn’t funny and is going to end up with someone getting killed – it is only a matter of time and it needs to stop.”

She went on to point out that incidences of farmers texting from the cabs of tractors has increased too.

“We aren’t allowed to drive cars and text so what makes it so different if you are in the cab of a trailer? We have also been trying to educate farmers on road safety and cyclists. We have teamed up with British cycling to give more information on the highway code and how much space you should give cyclists as well as tips on signals to be aware of.”

Tidy Farm Scotland

The Farm Safety Foundation has also been celebrating efforts by farmers to make their farms a safe environment and this week announced the winner of ‘Tidy Farm Scotland.’

“This week we revealed the winners of the inaugural competition ‘Tidy Farm Scotland’ which was a success in Northern Ireland and NFU Mutual in Scotland were keen to run the same competition here. We asked people to nominate ‘tidy’ farms, looking at everything from how they trained their staff in health and safety to how they managed biosecurity etc. Although we had to move the judging virtual, it was a great success and we had a great uptake from Scottish farmers who sent us video tours of their farm and what measures they had taken to make them safe.

“The standout winner was Gary Bell from Old Walls Farm, Lockerbie, who had an excellent separation of yard and home - which is really important. Everything was so thought out from a business perspective and we need to celebrate people like Mr Bell when they are taking these measures and to normalise people taking time and effort and pride in their farms.”

Tackling complacency

Although attitudes towards health and safety are beginning to change, there are still many farming businesses who are resistant to that change and this can sometimes lead to friction between families or colleague who wish to raise concerns about their workplace.

Ms Berkeley explained: “We have to be able to call people out for bad behaviours and this can involve difficult conversations, however you could have the opportunity to save a life or limb. Better saying something and losing a friendship than saying nothing and losing a friend.

“The figures may look better this year but there is much more to be done. We can’t become complacent and even if a farmer says ‘I have never had an accident in 40 years’ – this could be down to luck and luck can run out. This is about farming smarter!

“A lot has to be said for farmers who are always looking after everyone else, be that farm workers, livestock and machines, but they rarely look after themselves. Through working closely with the industry and sharing important messages around health and safety, we hope we are doing our bit as an organisation to keep them safe,” she concluded.

For find out more information about the Farm Safety Foundation visit