‘Farmers can make small changes that will significantly reduce risk’: In conversation with NFU Vice President Stuart Roberts
To mark Farm Safety Week (16 – 20 July), SHP Online spoke with the Vice President of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Chairman of the Farm Safety Partnership, Stuart Roberts.
This year’s week-long event comes as new HSE figures reveal that agriculture still has the highest rate of fatalities in Britain.
The HSE’s annual ‘Fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing’ report said that 29 agricultural workers were killed at work, with an additional four members of the public – two of them children – also dying.
The average rate of fatal injuries in agriculture stands at 8.44 deaths per 100,000, which is the highest of any sector and stands 18 times higher than the all industry average.
How important are events like Farm Safety Week to get the health and safety message across to the farming community?
Stuart Roberts (SR): “Events such as Farm Safety Week are vital in getting farmers to actively think about health and safety. While it’s something farmers should be vigilant about every day of the year, dedicating one week solely to health and safety on farms provides an opportunity for the farming industry to work together to really push the important messages and act as a catalyst for change.
“One of the key messages we’re trying to get across is that farmers can make small, cost-effective changes that will significantly reduce risks on farm without breaking the bank. Simple measures such as wearing a helmet or carrying a fully charged mobile phone when out alone can save lives.
“It also acts as a reminder to actually talk about safety and wellbeing, and to encourage people to open up about mental health. Farming is often considered quite a macho industry and we have shied away from doing this in the past, but it is essential that we look out for each other and have the confidence to talk about if we are feeling anxious, stressed or depressed.”
What is the sector’s track record like on health and safety and have there been specific areas that have improved/not improved over recent years?
SR: “The industries track record when it comes to health and safety is shocking and has been consistently poor for many years. It’s frustrating because we frequently see farmers and farm workers dying unnecessarily in the same ways – people are injured by cattle, run over by their own vehicles, crushed by falling objects – and we need to start learning from our mistakes rather than repeating them.”
How do you think attitudes to health and safety have changed over the years amongst farmers?
SR: “For too many years farmers have had a poor attitude to risk and safety. We have accepted our parents and grandparents way of doing things because ‘this is how it’s always been done’. We have not done enough to identify the risks that we face and then remove the risk, or where it cannot be removed, control it properly. However, we are now seeing early signs of a shift in culture where risk is being recognised and managed. The NFU and Farm Safety Partnership (FSP) are encouraging young farmers to speak up when they think something can be done in a different, safer way, and we are working to build the momentum so we can start to see this culture change reflected in the statistics.”
Would you like to see more farmers take first aid courses, so they can respond to any accidents quickly?
SR: “First aid courses are an excellent way to enable farmers to take control in a situation where an accident has occurred, and I would strongly recommend that farmers to undertake them. However, preventing the accident happening in the first place is always best, and the FSP is working with farmers to eliminate and reduce risks before they become dangerous.”
Do you see a big role for wearable technology and social media in the future in terms of helping to improve safety?
SR: “Social media is already helping farmers feel less isolated which can help those struggling with mental health. I also think wearable technology is very useful for farmers who often spend many hours by themselves away from populated areas.”
What can the farming sector learn from other industries in terms of improving health and safety?
SR: “We can learn a lot for other industries especially those which have had a similar record to ours in previous years. For example, construction made a conscious decision to improve its safety record about 25 years ago and has achieved something incredible. If you go on a construction site you will see that risks have been identified and removed or managed. I think farming needs to do the same; find the risk, remove when you can and if that is not possible take steps to manage it. The farming industry can definitely follow their example, but we don’t want it to take 25 years before we see a change. That is why the FSP has set a target of halving farming fatalities by 2023, with the ultimate goal of an industry with no deaths.”
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