Agricultural work in the UK can be hazardous. In fact, according to statistics, between one and three people die every month as a result of a farming accident. Several more are either seriously injured or fall ill in connection with their work. As a result, to ensure farming is a sustainable business, there needs to be a focus on workers’ health and safety.
Benefits of managing risks
Reducing the risks is the only sensible way to protect both your business and the farmworkers, who of course may include members of your family. By managing the risks you will:
- Reduce injuries and ill health, which will in turn, save you from potential financial and personal costs
- Boost your productivity and morale by having a healthier and happier labour force
- Develop farming practices that will make your business sustainable
- Carry out weather-critical operations at the correct time
- Avoid or reduce sickness payments and the cost of training replacements
- Increase the serviceable life of equipment and machinery
- Avoid or reduce the chances of damaging the reputation of your business
The risk of injuries and sickness in agriculture
As farming is a hazardous industry, there is always the possibility of injury or even death when working with machinery, chemicals, livestock and silos. Of course, this working environment is also affected by bad weather. Everyone living on the farm is at risk, including family members and children.
Naturally, working on a farm requires physical stamina, but the work is often repetitive which can lead to various health problems including severe back pain. In Britain, around one in every hundred workers is in the agriculture industry. However, one in every five fatal injuries involves an agricultural worker. To find ways on how to lower such accidents consider seeking advice from a health and safety manager.
The cost and common causes of accidents
Experts have estimated that the annual cost of injuries in the agricultural sector has almost reached £200 million. Two-thirds of these losses could have been avoided and the other third unfortunately relates to fatalities. The main causes of death in this sector are:
- Getting struck by moving vehicles or by falling objects (such as trees)
- Falling from a height
- Drowning or getting asphyxiated
- Machinery accidents
- Getting attacked by an animal
Government data shows that fewer than 20% of the most severe injuries are reported. However, the Health and Safety Executive suspects that more than 10,000 injuries that occur every year in the agricultural sector go unreported.
In addition, there is always the possibility that agricultural workers can be permanently disabled by:
- Breathing in dangerous dust
- Handling heavy loads
- Being exposed to loud noises or long periods of vibration
- Using and being exposed to chemicals
- Working with animals
It is also likely that the symptoms of ill health will take years to develop, so when a farmworker does actually get sick, it may already be too late. To make matters worse, they rarely consult a doctor unless their illness is severe. In the agriculture industry:
- Around 12,000 workers suffer from a disease that was either caused or exacerbated by their work.
- Back pain, sprains, strains, and other musculoskeletal injuries are three times the national average compared with other industries.
- Compared with the average person, farmworkers are more likely to suffer from asthma.
- Every year, around 20,000 people suffer from zoonoses. These are infectious diseases that are transferred from animals to humans.
Due to the very nature of their work, farmworkers endure extreme temperatures, including long periods of being exposed to the sun. They can also experience excessive noise or vibration and there is always the danger of inhaling the dangerous chemicals found in fertilisers and pesticides. Fortunately, farms can avoid injuries, sickness, and fatalities by implementing safeguards. To achieve this objective, farmers should consult health and safety professionals for advice on how to protect their employees.
Simon Bliss is the Managing Director of Principal People, a recruitment consultancy specialising in Health, Safety and Environment.