The agricultural industry should be purposefully told it is killing people if farmers are to change their attitude towards farm safety.
This is what Rick Brunt, head of operational strategy at the Health and Safety Executive, told NFU Council this week (June 25) when questioned by a member that it was offensive to suggest farmers were responsible for the deaths of friends and colleagues.
Mr Brunt said: “I take your point that some incidents are completely unavoidable, but it is so rare for me to see that.
“In the past five years I have seen over 160 fatalities and the absolute vast majority of those I can see how they could have been avoided.
“So I very consciously use the word kill rather than talking about accidents.”
Mr Brunt said since he last spoke to NFU Council about 18 months ago, the industry had killed another 52 people, injured about 20,000 and made another 22,000 ill.
“Just to put it in a little bit of context,” he said, “Many of you will remember Piper Alpha, the oil disaster where 160-something people lost their lives.
“The world looked at that and said that is not acceptable. We cannot kill that number of people in an industry.
“If we add up the figures, agriculture in Great Britain has a Piper Alpha every five years. That is the stark reality that we are trying to tackle.”
Children on farms was a hot topic during the debate, with council members suggesting modern machinery with proper seats and seatbelts was the safest place for small children while on the farm, with others suggesting children should have ATV training from as young as five-years-old.
NFU north west crops chairman Olly Harrison said: “Tractors have moved on in 61 years now – they have got seats, seatbelts, a roll-over system.
“Is the child not safer in that cab than approaching the vehicle without you realising it?”.
But Brunt said children were not safe in the cab because it engendered an attitude that the child wants to be in the workplace.
He said: “If you want to change the attitude in this industry, tackle that really big one. Start with the idea that it is no longer acceptable to have children in the workplace.”
He added the average 33 deaths per year on farm could be doubled if road accidents with farm vehicles were taken into account.
NFU vice president Stuart Roberts said: “I have found this really difficult. On occasions when my boy was a young lad, he was in a tractor cab. That was illegal, that was unsafe, and it was stupid, but I did it.
“It is really difficult now telling him at 10-years-old that he cannot do that.
“We have got to just grow up and have the courage to criticise ourselves around some of this.”