For those of us who have been following every possible safety measure to avoid the invisible danger of COVID19 – washing our hands until our skin starts to crack, avoiding social contact with family and friends, risk assessing and redirecting our route as soon we see someone approaching – the thought that someone would see a danger on the horizon and do nothing to avoid it is hard to fathom.
But today, on Day One of Farm Safety Week let’s remember that this is exactly what farmers and farm workers have been doing for years and this is why, despite improvements in the industry, agriculture continues to have the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK and Ireland.
Let’s look at the facts – In the UK, Agriculture and related trades account for 1% of the workforce but 20% of all workplace fatalities. This is poor but, in the Republic of Ireland, the industry makes up 5% of the country’s workforce but a frightening 40% of all workplace accidents!
Since we put on our yellow wellies in 2014, we have been challenging and changing attitudes to risk-taking and safety and, as I opened this year’s HSE Fatal Injuries in Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing for Great Britain 2019/2020 report, I was encouraged to read that there are signs that poor attitudes to safety, risk-taking behaviours and the number of farmers and farm workers losing their lives in the workplace may finally be improving. Over the last year, 20 agriculture workers lost their lives on GB farms, a decrease of 37.5% on the previous year’s total of 32 and a nearly 40 year low. To read the full report CLICK HERE
Even with this improvement, farming still has the highest rate of fatal injury of all the main industry sectors, an incredible 18 times higher than the all-industry rate.
Now in its eighth year, this week brings together five countries over five days with ONE clear goal – to remind farmers and farm workers to take safety seriously so we can continue to reduce the number of life-changing and life-ending accidents on our farms.
Throughout the week, we will demonstrate how the recent global pandemic has impacted the industry and, with the tragic reality that three children lost their lives on British and Irish farms over the past month alone, the issue of keeping children safe on farms has never been more important.
Please tune in at 11 this morning when we release our new hero film for this year’s Farm Safety Week. The message is clear from this year’s report – whether it is due to better training, better agility or better attitudes, young farmers are less likely to have a fatal incident at work than older farmers. Last year, half the workers killed were 55 years or older. In fact, when comparing older and younger farm worker age groups, the five year fatal injury rate is nearly six times higher for over 65s compared to the 16-24 age group.
Maybe it’s time for us all to grow up and take safety seriously…
That said, following recent news reports of farmers texting and TikToking while behind the wheel, there will be a focus on distracted driving and rural road safety. However, with the encouraging figures in this year’s HSE annual report, there will be a look at some of the exciting innovations in technology helping us all to farm safer.
This has been a particularly challenging 2020 for all of us however, over the past few months, farmers have been recognised as key workers, playing an essential role in producing food for the country. There are no borders when it comes to safety and we will continue to show a united front in calling for the industry to take safety seriously each and every day, not just during Farm Safety Week.
Like any farmer scanning his fields for green shoots, we are doing the same across the industry and we’re optimistic that a change is finally happening.
Farmers are starting to make decisions that are in their broad self-interest and in the interest of staying safe and staying alive. Young farmers are coming into the industry with improved attitudes to working safely. More farmers are being open about looking after their physical and mental wellbeing and using technology, learning business skills and taking innovative steps to make their farm businesses safe, resilient and sustainable.
Farm Safety Week may be one week in the year but here at the Farm Safety Foundation, we work all year round to educate, engage and communicate strong and relatable farm safety messages and deliver this change and we can not do this alone. We are very privileged to have this opportunity to work closely with the farm safety partnerships, health and safety organisations and the farming community to drive safety forward.