Brian Henderson takes a hard-headed view of safety on the farm

Farm Safety week kicks off today and I thought I’d add my own tuppence worth on the back of recent research.

HSE advise helmet wearing on ATVs
HSE advise helmet wearing on ATVs

Now I certainly wouldn’t want to do down the efforts of Farm Safety week because there’s a huge amount of work to be done to get people in the industry – and that includes myself – to take a cool clear look at some of the dangers to which we often expose ourselves.

But the week-long campaign sometimes reminds me a bit of a line in the Guy Ritchie movie ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ in which the leader of a group of London mobsters yells at his henchmen who are under fire: “Can everyone stop getting shot!”

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For, while the sentiment might have gained universal support, something slightly more concrete was probably required to deliver the outcome.

And the research I mentioned highlights some of the difficulties faced by anyone trying to tackle these issues. It was carried out by Aberdeen University where the psychology department seems to have spied enough material in the farming world for an entire conference.

But this work was quite specific and looked into the reasons why so many farmers don’t wear a helmet when they’re out on their quad bikes, especially when the Health and Safety Executive notes that despite the continuing dangers, no one who has been wearing a helmet has been killed in a quad accident in the UK.

It’s the simplest of precautions and, to be honest, represents little more than a minor inconvenience.

But I’m ashamed to admit that I would have to plead guilty to several of the entirely unworthy excuses given for not protecting your head, all of which look a bit pathetic when viewed in the summary of the research.

The survey conducted by Dr Amy Irwin and Jana Mihulkova found that while two-thirds (63.5%) of respondents stated they owned a helmet - less than a third of the sample (29.9%) reported wearing it either frequently or always.

The research delved into the underlying thought processes of this rash approach to physical safety – to try to find the real reasons why so few farmers actually wear a helmet when using their ATVs.

Some said they felt feel foolish wearing them on their own farm - or didn’t believe they drove fast enough to warrant them. Some felt that only inexperienced drivers or youngsters needed helmets, or that they were only required if driving on the road or if driving on open hill. Others said driving carefully was more important than wearing a helmet, while some said that helmets could be uncomfortable, hot or that they hindered their hearing.

Other comments included the fact that they often simply forgot to put them on or didn’t have time if they were rushing.

Admitting to using many of these excuses myself, I’m aware that a misplaced conceit in my ability to be careful (despite this being belied by a couple of lucky escapes) probably lies at the root of my attitude.

With the HSE stating that most quad deaths could have been avoided by wearing a helmet, many steps have been taken to try to change this sort of attitude – including the offer of training from the manufacturers.

Building roll-over protection into these machines has also been looked at – but the additional framework was simply viewed as a means of attaching more bales or feed to the bike, making it more dangerous.

In Australia the number of quad-related deaths saw the Government offering financial incentives to farmers to change over to side-by-sides which at least contained the driver somewhat – but these vehicles aren’t always as well suited to Scotland’s hilly ground.

But while HSE can impose fines of £45,000 on companies failing to provide safety equipment and training – there’s not actual legal requirement to wear a helmet – and I’m beginning to think that this might be the quickest way to change mindsets.

Take car seatbelts, their use wasn’t really fully adopted until legislation was introduced making their use a legal obligation. And you could say the same for motorcycle helmets – and while their use was widely avoided at one stage, even the hairiest of hairy bikers nowadays pulls on some sort of head protector.

And while embarrassment at the feeble excuses for not wearing a helmet might be enough to get me to lid up, making helmet wearing a legal requirement would strengthen the incentive.

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