It is an unfortunate fact that of all the major industrial industries, agriculture is the most dangerous with fatalities being around 20 times higher than others. The month of July was host to Farm Safety Week, whereby awareness is raised of the dangers of the industry. Unfortunately, in the following fortnight, another four deaths were recorded across Great Britain.
A wise head once told me that the most lethal item on the farm isn’t the cattle or the machinery, it is the person tasked to control them – the farmer. A farmer must know the in and outs of their tractors, trailers and telehandlers and how to use them safely. Whilst understanding their cattle and how to handle them – beef and dairy cows weigh between 750kg to 1100kg. Poor control whilst running or sorting cattle can lead to death by either crushing or trampling.
Currently, kids aged just 13 can drive tractors on their farms and land before going on the roads at 16. Thirteen is a young age. I was probably still building Lego tractors at that age – let alone driving them. Kids this age may go a little wild at Young Farmer’s events, but when it comes to working on the farm, kids in agriculture are both mature and responsible with farm equipment.
Proportionally, the highest percentage of deaths come in the over 60s. Last year, 30% of deaths were aged over 60, whilst they as an age bracket only make up 11% of the workforce.
A lot of this comes down to complacency. Whether it’s lambing season, harvest or turnaround for us, farmers frequently will work 12 hour days in succession. As tiredness increases, it only takes one mistake on a job or task that you’ve done a thousand times to be fatal.
The highest percentage of deaths on the farm come from falls, which could be either from the top of ladders, roofs or bales. But what is worrying is that a large proportion come from incidents on All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) like quadbikes because farmers refuse to wear helmets.
Figures show that only one in three farmers wear a helmet every time they go out – with excuses ranging from ‘they rush and forget’, to ‘they don’t need one’ to stating that ‘they look silly’.
The pandemic has been a struggle for farmers. A lot of the demand for their produce disappeared in a night as the hospitality industry closed during the first lockdown. Whilst the lockdown also isolated many farmers to seeing no one – when your closest neighbour is two miles down the road you can’t have a catch-up outside your front door. All socialising in agriculture is predominantly saved for the skittle alley on a Thursday night or the general pub bar across the weekend.
With the machinery and animals used across farms in Great Britain, incidents will happen – it is unfortunately inevitable. But do we need so many deaths to feed the nation? Something needs to change.
By: Andrew Livingston
Sponsored by: Trethowans