Will the farming industry ever up its safety game? - Andrew Arbuckle

With the latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive showing no reductions, the question has to be “Does the farming industry just accept that it will continue to be one of the most deadly and dangerous in the country or will the farming community attempt to reduce the number of accidents that happen on the farm?”

Farmers work in the most dangerous occupation in this country or, more accurately, it is first equal with the fishing and forestry industries in the number of people killed or injured while working.

I am not really surprised by that information. Despite the best efforts of the HSE, aided by the farming unions, farmers and farm workers have, for as long as I can remember, held on to this unenviable title.

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There has been some recent advancement in dealing with the various mental stresses that can affect those working in the farming industry. Some of these are brought on by working in isolation; others by the pressures of working within small family groups. Yet another grouping that suffers mental pressures come with those farmers who have massive borrowings in their businesses. And then, there are those who struggle with any other mental conditions that affect people generally. Thankfully, we now have various organisations providing a release valve from these pressures. There is progress in that mental problems are at last being recognised and, more importantly, being openly talked about.

Farming remains a dangerous occupationFarming remains a dangerous occupation
Farming remains a dangerous occupation
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We must wonder therefore why the rate of physical farming accidents still stubbornly remains well above those in other sectors. Other industries such as building and construction work have improved their safety record but there is no similar betterment in the safety record for the farming industry.

Some have suggested one major reason for this is familiarity, as in “I have done this before and the quad bike, did not tip over,” or “I have found standing in a raised grain bucket as an ideal way of cleaning roof gutters.” This latter category of falling from a height provides one in eight of the fatalities.

Some have attributed the high accident record in farming to downright foolishness as in “I usually just put a bit of a six inch nail in as a replacement if the fuse keeps blowing” or “Do not worry about the missing rungs on the ladder. I normally can reach up past the broken one and get my foot the next one.”

Others have claimed many of the mishaps on farms as being down to self-imposed pressures especially when working in remote or isolated areas. Those involved often claim: “If I do not do this job then it will not be done and so I will work long, long hours in order to finish it.” That excuse or example is used whether it is in the lambing shed, the calving pen or just driving a tractor or combine for long hours with reaction times fading as the hours pass. That latter reason being particularly prevalent at harvest time.

I speak with some authority on these matters as I have spoken many of those words in excusing my “it will never happen to me” behaviour during my time working in the industry.

I survived with no major damage to my body although there are a few bits of me that cause me to occasionally yelp with pain along with other parts of my body that, nowadays just do not seem to work as they used to.

In my reporting days, I have seen the painted outlines of mangled bodies on posters designed to shock. The outlines lie beside upturned tractors or ladders with missing rungs. I have also seen smaller concertina-d outlines where a body has plummeted through a dodgy roof and come to a sudden stop on a concrete floor.

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As the above proves, it I not difficult to pinpoint some of the main reasons surrounding people being killed or maimed on farms but that takes us no nearer providing any remedies to solving the issue

The examples above would be difficult to legislate against or at least difficult to enforce any firm legislation that would reduce the death and accident tolls on farms.

And any new legislation on improving farm safety would be strongly resisted by those who enjoy the freedoms that farming brings.

In some ways the situation on farm safety here is similar to that on gun law in the USA with half the population seeing the cost and damage to humanity while the other half do not want to see any restrictions on their current liberty.



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