In recent years, work-related fatalities in the UK and Ireland’s farming industries have been disproportionate compared to the number of deaths in other industries.
Tuesday of Farm Safety Week focuses on machinery and transport. Poorly used or faulty vehicles and machinery are a major cause of death and injury on farms. Farmers come into contact with a host of machinery daily – combines, choppers and hay balers which bring their own attendant dangers. Hands, hair and clothing can be caught by unguarded PTO shafts or other unguarded moving parts such as pulleys and belts. People can be injured by front-end loaders, falling from a moving tractor or being struck by its wheels.
According to Martin Malone from the Scotland Farm Safety Partnership: “Machinery and transport continue to be the main causes of life changing and life ending injuries on farms. In fact 40 per cent of all farm workers who have lost their lives in agriculture over the past decade were workplace machinery-transport related.
“Whilst this year we have seen an improvement in the numbers of farmers losing their lives as a result of machinery and transport, the fact is that one death is one too many. Farm Safety Week is in its fifth year of existence, farm safety training is improving across the country and initiatives like that pioneered by progressive enterprises including Ednie Farms near Peterhead demonstrate that agriculture is an industry who agree that enough is enough and want to make a change.”
Ednie Farms, an extensive farming enterprise consisting of livestock, arable renewables and forestry in Peterhead is run by husband and wife team Peter Robertson and Dr Elaine Booth, who employ two full time employees and others part-time as and when required.
Last year, Peter read about the safety statistics for the industry, with one in particular standing out, and decided to take action. He explained: “I was looking at the safety statistics for this industry and I was shocked to see that 37 per cent of accidents on Scotland’s farms were caused by people being hurt by vehicles or machinery. I know in this area of at least two incidents in recent years where family members have been seriously injured by vehicles.
“I decided that to reduce the risks of that happening on our farms that we needed to take action, and we decided to put in place a hi-vis policy, where anyone, no matter their age or purpose, who comes onto the farm must wear a hi-vis jacket or hi-vis boiler suit. We’ve invested in those for our employees and family, and when we have schoolchildren on the farm we ensure every single one of them wears one.
“This policy is widespread in nearly every other manual labour industry, such as the buildings and construction sector, so why should agriculture be any different? We often work in challenging conditions – late into the night, in dark sheds, or at a pace to try and get jobs finished, and any small measures our industry can take to make their farms and crofts safer, is a huge step to reducing the accident and death toll that our industry has such a bad record of.
Elaine adds: “We spoke with our employees and family at the time and talked through the reasons for implementing this policy, and they were fully supportive. And it has proved effective. When I went to one of our forestry sites recently, the contractor admitted that he had seen me far in the distance because I was wearing hi-vis, and not just when I was up closer to the machinery. He was aware I was nearby and was able to easily keep an eye on where I was as he worked and stop as he saw me approaching.”
The team agree that it has made workers across the whole business much more aware of those working around them, making the farm a safer place to live and work.
“You can get hi-vis for so little these days” says Peter.
“It really is a very simple, cost effective, but yet highly useful way of making our farms and working environment safer and I certainly think others should be considering implementing this policy on their farms.”
Peter agrees that farm safety is a lifestyle and not just a slogan and freely admits that safety is now so much more a part of their lives and that they should have been far more conscious of it years ago.
Martin Malone added: “Everybody in farming knows somebody who has been injured or killed in an accident. The team at Ednie Farms are absolutely right – reminding farmers that farm safety is a lifestyle, not a slogan seems like the right thing to do this week, given the culture of risk raking in the industry. One day your luck could run out.
“According to American journalist Henry Mencken ‘Man is a beautiful machine that works very badly’ and unfortunately, as we have seen very recently, agricultural machinery may be advancing with safety features but it is still dangerous so please take a minute to use the SAFE STOP approach – ensure tractors, telehandlers and associated equipment is switched off when doing routine tasks or making routine checks and maintenance and take your time to think about what you are doing and what might go wrong as making a few simple checks could actually save a life – maybe your own!”
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