Work-related fatigue can be very bad for your safety and your health and nowhere is this more relevant than in farming!
In a recent UK-wide study of 95 farmers we carried out in partnership with our funder NFU Mutual back in April 2021, 69% of respondents identified tiredness as a major risk to farming safely. Second only to rushing (74%).
Too often, fatigue or tiredness is the forgotten occupational health and safety issue, one with potentially deadly consequences.
As well as an increased risk of injury at work, tiredness, caused by excessively long working hours and patterns can increase the risk of health conditions including heart, digestive and mental health problems.
Most farmers surveyed, have taken risks or have seen risks being taken as a result of both tiredness and rushing – from falling asleep at the wheel, to not taking proper safety precautions, to simply not tidying up properly. Although often major incidents are avoided, most understand that there is potential for major harm as a result of cutting corners
Our new research is supported by Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone and Dr. Amy Irwin of the Non-technical Skills in Agriculture team at the School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen in their “Assessing the impact of stress and fatigue on situation awareness in Irish and British farmers” publication.
According to their findings, when you are fatigued and under stress, your situation awareness – your ability to perceive the current situation, to understand what is going on and to predict future consequences – may be impaired.
This is especially dangerous if you are operating machinery and working with animals, as you need to be alert at all times. If you are working remotely or alone and you are tired, lack of communication and coordination with others, such as sharing your plans and establishing contingency measures, can also delay help in case of an emergency.
In the study, the team discovered that the contribution of fatigue to farm safety was widely acknowledged, both in general terms and as a causal factor in the context of critical incidents. Participants took more risks and shortcuts to complete tasks quicker when tired. As one commented: “You would definitely cut corners.”
So, are you dead tired?
✓ Sleep – are you getting enough rest?
✓ Symptoms of fatigue – Do you recognise any of the following in your current state?
‣ Dizziness, headaches, blurred vision
‣ Aching muscles
‣ Poor concentration
‣ Slow reflexes and reactions
‣ Mood changes and social changes
✓ Stress – How are your current stress levels?
✓ Diet & exercise – Are you eating and drinking water regularly? Do you exercise
✓ Stimulants – How much do you rely on caffeine?
✓ Communication & coordination – Do you regularly keep in touch with others
So what can we do about this?
Let’s be clear, certain levels of stress and fatigue are sometimes inevitable in the agricultural industry but, with 89% of farmers wanting advice on how to combat fatigue, any advice should come from those who live and work in the industry and who are experiencing this challenge first hand.
To this end, we did a call out on our @yellowwelliesUK social media channels for Top Tips and this is what was suggested…
• For the two weeks before any particularly busy time, get up an hour and a half before you normally would so you can build up a routine of longer days
• Don’t be afraid to admit when you need a break. Long hours are often seen as an expectation in this industry. Time off shouldn’t be so frowned upon as we ALL need it!
According to James Keller, a farmer from Warwickshire:
• Keep hydrated and walk in the fantastic British countryside can realistically tackle tiredness!
• Embrace nature and let your mind wander as you take a breather.
• Practice 40 winks after lunch, even closing your eyes helps. We can all learn from lorry drivers!
• Take time out and spend it with your family, friends or simply doing nothing! Be disciplined with it (easier said than done!)
As Wayne Langford, the YOLO NZ farmer says:
Success is not just based on profit per hectare, or lower farm working expenses, but family life and happiness. Find the joy in everyday moments
If you find that tiredness is affecting you, either on a personal or a professional level, or if you experience stress and depression, please reach out and seek immediate help: speak to someone you trust, talk to your GP or contact one of the support organisations highlighted in the National Directory of Rural and Farm Support Groups CLICK HERE
To learn more about Farm Safety Week visit www.yellowwellies.org or follow @yellowwelliesUK on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook using the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek