Warning over health and safety for those working in ‘riskiest industry’

An agricultural expert has issued a warning about health and safety after it was revealed three peop

An agricultural expert has issued a warning about health and safety after it was revealed three people have been killed on farms in the region in the past year. - Credit: Archant

An agricultural expert is urging farmers to be vigilant after new figures showed three people have been killed on farms in the East of England in the last 12 months.

Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have revealed that in 2016/17, agriculture had the highest rate of fatal injury, about 18 times higher than the rate for all other industries.

In total, 30 people have been killed on British farms in the past year – making agriculture the riskiest industry to work in.

The main causes of death were people being struck by vehicles (30 per cent), trapped by something collapsing (20 per cent), struck by an object (17 per cent), contact with electricity (10 per cent), falling from a height (seven per cent), and injured by an animal (seven per cent).

Charles Foster, of Norfolk-based farm insurance specialist Lycetts, said: “It is worrying that agriculture remains one of the most dangerous industries, with the high fatality rate far-exceeding other industries.

“HSE’s research shows that vehicle-related activities consistently lead to more deaths than any other category, and that half of the workers killed by something collapsing were taking part in activities involving vehicles and machinery.

“So, while some of these deaths have been the result of freak accidents, many could have been prevented. Although this is a sad fact, this gives us hope that, with better practice on farms and safer use of machinery, incidents like this could become rarer.

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“It is also promising to see that, although the fatal injury rate for agriculture has shown no clear trend over the past 35 years, there are signs of improvement over the past five years.

“Hopefully this is down to farmers being more vigilant about safety and risk assessments – but we still have a way to go.”

Agriculture has a 7.61 fatal injury rate per 100,000 workers – six times that of the construction sector.

Whilst 27 of the past year’s deaths involved workers, three were members of the public.

The age of the victims varies hugely, with the youngest being three and the oldest 80. The youngest worker to be killed was 18.

Nearly half of the workers killed in agriculture were over 65 and more than 85 per cent of workers killed were over the age of 45.

In the past year, there have been three deaths in the East of England.

A 36-year-old worker was killed when his tractor trailer hit an overhead power line. A 54-year-old self-employed haulage director was killed beneath straw bales, and a 72-year-old farm employee was killed between a hedge cutter and a large bale.

Mr Foster added: “What strikes me is the high death rate of older workers. Health and safety is a fundamental requirement of any farming operation, no matter how small or well-established it is, and minimising risk should be top priority.

“It is also alarming that self-employed farmers make up a large proportion of deaths; 67 per cent - 20 out of 30 – of those who died on farms were self-employed, whilst 23 per cent were employees and 10 per cent were members of the public.

“There is a danger that farmers who work for themselves harbour a perception that they do not need to carry out the necessary risk assessments or abide by the health and safety regulations, as they don’t have any employees. But, as this research shows, this can have devastating consequences.

“It may also be a case of farmers, due to economic constraints, are having to manage difficult and labour-heavy jobs by themselves or with limited resources – and are therefore putting themselves at increased risk.

“It is imperative that farmers take health and safety seriously and do their utmost to protect themselves, their employees and the public, as well as procuring comprehensive insurance cover in case a tragic incident like this does occur.”