NFU Vice President Stuart Roberts is a third generation arable and livestock farmer who has also worked for Defra and the Food Standards Agency and held senior management roles within the meat supply chain.
Stuart sits as chair of the England Farm Safety Partnership, a collective of organisations representing a broad spectrum of agricultural interests and in the February meeting of the FSP, Stuart set a target to reduce the number of farming fatalities by at least 50% by the summer of 2023.
Here he shares his view of the industry and his vision for how the England FSP will help drive a real change.
“When I made thirty safety improvements on my farm almost exactly twelve months ago I had no idea at the time that it would change not only how I approach health and safety physically but also how I would approach health and safety mentally. I can genuinely say I now look at health and safety through a very different lens. An approach that I hope has started to contribute in a tiny way to the work of so many other people across the industry in making agriculture a safer and more caring industry.
I can genuinely say I now look at health and safety through a very different lens.
Looking at the latest fatality statistics it is very hard to suggest any improvement has been achieved in the last year and the headline figure of 29 deaths in 12 months is shocking by any measure. However, if I look beyond the numbers I see some genuine reasons to be more positive about the future. Since taking a greater interest in this subject (I know it is a very said statement to say it has taken me forty three years to develop an interest in what is ultimately the most important priority for ourselves our families and our colleagues) I have found more and more inspirational people doing such great work in this area. Inspirational people who have encouraged, embarrassed and enthused an industry and ultimately given us all a long overdue kick up the backside!
A few years ago, anyone who started talking about health and safety was soon isolated for being a member of the nanny state. Looking back, I never did see the irony in conversations that always ended with “health and safety has gone mad” whilst at the same time ignoring the fact that agriculture sat stubbornly at the top of the league table of industry fatalities.
Over the last year or so I have started to see real change in many farmers approach to this subject and whenever I attend an on-farm health and safety event I am never disappointed by the number of people who attend or the enthusiasm with which they approach a topic we have historically refused to discuss. However, attending an event or starting a discussion are only the start of what is really needed to achieve the goal the Farm Safety Partnership has set of halving the fatality rate within five years and ultimately eliminating fatalities from farm accidents.
The early positive signs I see are encouraging but they will be meaningless if they are not now multiplied and magnified across every farm in every part of the UK and that will take time. For me however its, pretty simple. Farmers have always prided themselves on being part of a big community. Being part of a community means looking out for each other, caring for each other and supporting each other. Over the next year I’m going to spend more time encouraging others to think about their safety, talking to others about their health and wellbeing and supporting others who want to turn the green shoots of change into a fully-fledged culture shift. I hope every farmer will join me in encouraging, supporting and talking.”