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Agricultural sector poses many risks to workers

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently appointed a new head to its agricultural section after the existing head - Graeme Walker - retired. He is being replaced by Rick Brunt, who was formerly in charge of field operations for the North West.

Leading the agricultural division is an important responsibility because, despite improvements in recent years, agriculture remains one of Britain’s most dangerous industries.

Agriculture accident statistics

Just over one in a hundred workers (employees and the self-employed) work in agriculture, forestry and fishing but, according to the HSE, the sector accounts for about one in five fatal injuries to workers.

HSE agricultural statistics also show that:

  • 29 workers were killed in 2012/13 and there were seven fatal injuries to members of the public.
  • Almost half (41%) of the workers who were fatally injured were farmers, and another 17% were farm workers.
  • Almost half as many workers were killed in 2012/13 as in 1981 (54), but the average worker fatality rate, over the last five years, is much higher than in any other industry section.

Occupational health problems

As well as a high number of deaths and injuries, the agricultural sector can also pose a serious risk to workers’ overall health.

Exposure to dust from substances like grain/cereal, animal feed or bedding can be a significant cause of breathing or lung problems for workers in the industry.

There are also about 90 deaths per year that are attributed to occupational carcinogens, the statistics reveal. About three quarters of these deaths are in general farming while most of the others are in horticulture.

Farm worker suffers many injuries

The risks involved in working in the agricultural sector are clearly demonstrated in the regular case reports published by the HSE.

In one recent case, a farm worker in Suffolk received a distressing list of injuries after a fall from height during a dangerous lifting operation.

The 67-year-old broke a shoulder blade, fractured seven ribs, chipped two vertebrae, cracked his pelvic cradle and sustained a serious head injury as a result of the fall. Fortunately, he did eventually recover, but he had to be hospitalised for nine days and was unable to work for around four months.

The incident happened when he was attempting to bring down seed potatoes from a shed. In order to do this, he stood in a potato box balanced on the forks of a forklift truck, which was lifted to the top of a stack of boxes some six metres high. The box became unbalanced and he fell three metres to the ground.

When the HSE investigated the incident it found evidence of clear safety failings on the part of the man’s employers.

A safe and suitable system of work was in place and training had been given to the workers, but the employer did not carry out any checks to ensure this system was followed.

The partners in the business were jointly fined a total of £3,000 and ordered to pay combined costs of £993 (including a victim surcharge) after individually pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Fatal forklift truck accident

In another, unfortunately fatal, agricultural incident, a farm manager lost his life after being hit by a forklift truck.

The 58-year-old was walking from his car across the farm yard when he was struck by the vehicle, which was being driven by a farm employee. He received serious crush injuries and sadly died at the scene.

The HSE investigation found that there were no effective measures in place to allow vehicles and pedestrians to move around the site safely.

A risk assessment had previously been carried out that highlighted the risks involved if pedestrians and vehicles were not segregated, but its findings were not fully implemented by the firm.

The company was fined a total of £165,000 and ordered to pay £39,500 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

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Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0.


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