Safety week warning as agriculture death rate remains high

With 30 deaths recorded in the past 12 months, up from 29 in the previous year, agriculture retains the worst record of any industry in the UK and Ireland for workplace deaths and injuries, according to statistics from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

Taking care with machinery is vital for personal safety. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Taking care with machinery is vital for personal safety. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With an annual fatal injury rate of 7.61 workers per 100,000, agriculture is six times more dangerous than the construction industry – and 18 times that of the average across all industries.

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The statistics also showed that despite some variation between years, taking the figures for the past decade, on average, someone working in agriculture has been killed every nine days.

In Scotland in 2016-17, there were five fatalities in the sector, down by three deaths on the fatality average of eight over the 2012-13 to 2016-17 period, with vehicle accidents being the most common cause of these deaths.

Farm safety week kicked off yesterday, with more organisations than ever involved in the push to get those in the industry to take greater care.

Rick Brunt, who heads up the agriculture sector with the HSE, said: “Agriculture is a critical part of our economy, but every year we have to report that agriculture has the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK.”

He said that this fact was all the more tragic owing to the fact that the deaths and injuries were often avoidable.

“The precautions to prevent people being killed and maimed on farms are well known and can be easily applied,” said Brunt.

He said that despite the fact that more than half of all fatal injuries involved farmers over the age of 65, farm workers of any age ran the risk of injury or death.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick, who also spoke on behalf of Farm Safety Partnership Scotland, said that farming as an industry was absolutely vital to the UK economy – stating that it formed the bedrock of the country’s food and drink industry.

He said: “On a farm or croft, as with any business, the number one resource is the people. So why is it that year on year we are seeing these hard-working and dedicated workers suffering life-changing and life-ending accidents?

“Many farmers think ‘farm safety last’ rather than ‘farm safety first’ but most of these accidents are avoidable.

“Unlike other occupations, our farmers and crofters don’t normally retire at 65 and often work well into their 80s.”

McCornick said that simple factors such as habit, haste, fatigue, and improperly maintained machinery contributed to the “perfect storm”.

“But this Farm Safety Week, we hope that by hearing the stories of other farmers and crofters who have had personal experience of accidents, we can get farmers of all ages to realise that this week, and every week, farm safety is a lifestyle, not a slogan.”