Health and safety should be a fundamental part of a farm’s management agenda, to not only safeguard the safety of all farm workers, but also to ensure a business is sustainable for the future.
Figures produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show 39 people were killed as a result of farming and other agriculture-related activities in 2018/19.
Transport, and in particular over-turning vehicles or being struck by moving vehicles, caused the most deaths.
Nine of the deaths involved incidents with cattle, nearly half of the agricultural workers killed were more than 60 years old, and the deaths included two children.
Clare Hill, of FAI Farms, says the statistics around on-farm incidents are shocking, and a focus on health and safety is paramount from an ethical point of view.
However, she also points out the link between farm safety and improved productivity.
She says: “We have found the more emphasis we put on health and safety, the better candidates we attract to our farming businesses.
And when we take the safety of our staff seriously, they take our business and our requirements more seriously too.”
As a member of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), McDonald’s is keen to promote some of the principles the group has put forward regarding health and safety.
Alice Willett, McDonald’s agriculture consultant (sustainable sourcing), says: “The GRSB defines sustainable beef as a socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable product which prioritises planet, animals, progress and people.”
In terms of health and safety, this focus on ‘people’ encompasses human rights, and as part of this, McDonald’s and other stakeholders are keen to ensure those working within agriculture are protected from a health and safety perspective.
It is working closely with the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability, a working group of the GRSB at local level, to deliver a target in this area of improving the resilience of beef farming.
Also included as a deliverable within the target is a reduction to the number of serious accidents and fatalities seen on-farm, with an overall target of zero.
Ms Willett says: “When it comes to sustainability, the ongoing challenge the agricultural sector faces from serious injury or death cannot be ignored and being a sector where lone-working is common, beef farming is at a high risk.
“McDonald’s is proud to support more than 23,000 producers, without which it would not be able to operate and it is therefore crucial to continue to champion farming practices which keep everyone safe.”
She says the efficacy of these health and safety targets will be under continual review, with HSE data monitoring, as well as working alongside producers going forward, to formulate health and safety work plans forming ongoing elements within the process.
Tackling health and safety on-farm Mrs Hill says farm safety can be an overwhelming issue when trying to keep on top of all the issues, including vehicles, children on-farm and hazardous working conditions.
But she recommends farmers keep tackling any issues which may be of concern on their individual farm and use record-keeping to flag problems.
She says there are some practical initiatives which can easily and effectively be incorporated into a farm’s own health and safety protocols.
For example, she highlights the Tilly Trailer Inspection.
She says: “It is incredibly sad the idea was born out of tragedy, but the scheme is something really tangible that people can do.”
The Tilly Trailer Inspection idea was developed by the family of 19-year-old Harry Christian-Allan, who was killed in August 2014 when the brakes on a trailer he was towing failed.
Harry’s mother Jane Gurney started collating data and found that about 70 per cent of second-hand agricultural trailers have more than two things wrong with them and are not safe for use.
So along with her family, she launched a voluntary initiative, where trailer owners have the opportunity to take 12-monthly inspections from fully qualified mechanics.
In return, they receive official certification and a red and white sticker on the back of the trailer to prove their vehicle has been maintained and is up to scratch.
Taking the name of the family pet dog, Tilly, and using her as the scheme’s mascot, the scheme has seen more than 1,000 farmers join since it began in April 2018.