‘Disturbing’ gaps in farm safety

A SURVEY of the region’s farmers has revealed that nearly a third have no written health and safety policy and the same proportion have never had a health and safety inspection.

The ‘Health and Safety on Farms’ study, from NatWest Mentor, shows ‘unsettling’ gaps between farmer health and safety knowledge and practice, the banking group said.

The industry, which employs less than 1.5% of the country’s working population, accounts for between 15-20% of those killed at work in all sectors of the economy, with an average of 40-50 people killed every year.

The NatWest report, which surveyed more than 450 farmers and employees across the UK, and of these, 69% interviewed in the East of England and the Midlands felt they would benefit from more information and advice on health and safety.

Only a quarter knew that a business employing more than five people is legally required to have a health and safety policy.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said health and safety was an area the industry was taking “very seriously”.

Farm Safety Month was launched at the Suffolk Show last year, following concerns over the relatively high rates of deaths and injuries in the industry.

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Data from the Health & Safety Executive shows that in a 10 year period 436 people were killed in farming-related accidents - a death toll approaching one a week.

This does not include those injured and suffering health problems as a result of their work in agriculture.

Nearly 44% of those who took part in the survey in this region said there had been an accident on the farm.

The most common causes of accidents were handling livestock, working at height or involving power drives, cutting machinery and lifting practices.

As part of a bid to combat the problem, the Farm Safety Partnership, involving 25 different organisations including the NFU, is aiming to reduce the number of on-farm deaths and injuries.

Since its launch last year, the group has built up a bank of practical safety advice leaflets covering areas such as machinery falls, children on farm and working near overhead power lines, as well as highlighting the training courses that are available.

The NFU also has a dedicated area on its website covering health and safety issues at http://www.nfuonline.com/safety/.

NFU regional director Pamela Forbes said: “The latest figures from the Health & Safety Executive confirm that agriculture remains the UK’s most dangerous profession. The statistics are shocking in themselves but behind each death and serious injury lies a human tragedy.”

According to the NatWest survey, 30% of the region’s farmers had never had a formal health & safety inspection and nearly 16% never gave their workers any formal or informal health & safety training.

Liz Carridge, of the Health and Safety Executive said: “The key to improvement lies in creating a culture in which farmers routinely assess the risks and how they can be managed.”