This summer’s very wet weather over the last few weeks has, of course, delayed the harvest for many farmers up and down the country.
It’s hardly surprising then that a break in this weather results in a rush to get out and start work, and to continue to do so - working long hours without a break, whilst you can.
Who therefore has time to reflect on the uncomfortable truth that the harvest season is one of the most hazardous times for farmers, in an industry which is the most dangerous in the UK?
Recent statistics from the Health and Safety Executive regarding work-related fatal injuries for 2018/19 showed the agricultural sector (which is grouped together with forestry and fishing) remains the most dangerous in the UK, with 32 deaths and the number of injuries remains high.
Just last month, it was reported that the farming community is looking to raise £10,000 to buy a bionic arm for a farmer who slipped whilst bailing hay and got his arm stuck in the machinery.
Sadly, Andy Webster’s arm couldn’t be saved. And it’s not just those working on the farm who are at risk of injury either, with family members and ramblers for example also at risk of being injured while passing through, or playing on the land.
The three most common causes of fatal injuries in the workplace are falling from height, being struck by a moving vehicle and being struck by a moving object, and at this time of year, the heavy-duty machinery employed to help harvest crops can prove to be incredibly dangerous.
This year the NFU and Farm Safety Partnership highlighted these risks by launching their year-long safety campaign, which focusses on four hazardous areas related to injury and fatalities - transport, livestock, children and falls from height.
In my experience as a personal injury solicitor, defective equipment is a key component in farm related accidents.
Older equipment often has fewer safety features and is often less reliable. Leaving vehicles running (because will it restart? and it’s only for a minute…) whilst there is nobody in the driver’s seat often leads to crushing injuries.
Adaptations to machinery - putting in an extra step for example - can mean that moving parts are easier to access and therefore easier to fall into.
So how do you make sure everyone on the farm stays safe during the harvest season?
1. Common sense
The first tip sounds obvious, but time and time again we see accidents as a result of someone’s common sense failing – using machinery they knew was faulty, or circumnavigating a health and safety procedure in the interests of time. Harvest is a hectic time on the farm but always take a moment and listen to your common sense.
2. Risk assessments
This is vital – and legally required. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require that all employers or the self-employed assess their own risk, and the risk to anyone working for them regarding their working environment.
Being proactive and managing health and safety risks does ensure accidents are kept to a minimum. If your farm has a public right of way make sure you think about the public’s safety too.
It’s important to provide all employees with regular training on how to properly use machinery, handle livestock, vehicle use on the farm and how to lift and carry properly.
Ultimately, an employee on a farm has the same protection as any other employee in the UK.
In a close-knit community, minor accidents are very often often accepted as part and parcel of the job and generally I am only approached for advice when an accident has caused a significant or life changing injury.
An employer has responsibilities to provide a safe system of work, safe fellow employees and safe equipment.
An employer has the responsibility of ensuring adequate training. If an employer fails in these duties then of course it is open to an employee to make a claim for the injuries and losses they have suffered.