Charles Mayson, a farm advisor based in Herefordshire and finalist in the 2019 Farmers Weekly ‘Livestock Adviser of the Year’ Award, has been encouraged by some of the changes he has seen in health and safety attitudes over the years. However, he is deeply troubled by agriculture’s stubbornly high incident record. Today he shares his perspective on what now needs to change…
“There have been some big steps forward in farmers’ attitudes to health and safety in the decades I’ve been involved in this industry, but the pace of change has been too slow. And it still is.
There are some fantastic health and safety operators, but often this is the larger, more ‘corporate’ farms, with big numbers of staff and a direct relationship with supermarket buyers who demand best-practice protocols.
Sadly, on too many of the smaller family farms the situation isn’t so good. Sometimes it can result from people having a sense of invulnerability – they believe incidents simply won’t happen to them. Perhaps if they’ve done something a certain way for a long time they can’t even spot the dangers. There can also be a reluctance to change if you feel what you’re doing is no different to anyone else.
But the injury and fatality figures remain grimly high. They’re so sad to see and every case is a tragedy from which a family will never recover.
The truth is, nobody needs to be killed getting food on to the nation’s plates. Every year, every month, every week, someone is injured or dies. Other industries have managed to improve their record. Now we have to.
We all know the causes of farm deaths. Livestock, machinery and equipment, and falls from height are three – but knowing this hasn’t led to the wholesale change in attitudes we need to see.
Organisations such as the Farm Safety Foundation are doing great work, helping bring a change in culture. Change can happen. Remember how 40 years ago no one saw the need to wear a seatbelt in a car. Nowadays, it would be unthinkable to get behind the wheel and not buckle up.
I always tell farmers not to view health and safety as a huge task. Small, often inexpensive changes can make a big difference and you don’t have to achieve perfection overnight. Making your farm safer needn’t be time-consuming – it mostly requires a shift in mindset.
The best way to start is by prioritising the risks and tackling the most pressing issue. It might be how you operate around electricity powerlines, or making a repair to your cattle crush, or just getting in to the habit of wearing a hi-viz tabard in the yard at harvest.
You systematically deal with the risks one by one and your farm will become a safer place for you, your family, the people who work for you and visitors. That can be deeply reassuring for you – and something to be proud of (as well, of course, as making sure you comply with the legislation).
I know some people will never change. I know, too, that for many others change doesn’t happen overnight. But our industry is moving in the right direction, partly as a result of the next generation – some of whom have a different perspective to their parents and grandparents – taking the reins of family farms.
Attitudes are changing – I just wish they’d change a bit more quickly.
Charles Mayson founded CXCS, a Herefordshire-based company advising farmers on cross-compliance and health and safety issues. Charles is one of the finalists in the 2019 Farmers Weekly ‘Livestock Adviser of the Year’ Award.