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Unacceptable Accidents in Farming

There have been no shortage of headlines since my last column and apart from the usual – Hard vs. Soft Brexit?, others such as -“Red Meat Campaign to restore balance in media” and “Farming to be Zero Carbon by 2045” are adding to the pressures bearing down on farming as we go through 2019.

However, as I look forward to the day when the B – word no longer features in this column, there’s one more headline which should be worrying farmers with hay and silage making in full swing and grain harvesting just around the corner.

In my view this headline is more serious than any other …

“13 people died as a result of Fatal Injuries on Scotland’s Farms and Crofts in 2018/2019.”

That’s 5 more people who died on farms than in 2017/2018 and sadly, a staggering 62% increase year on year.

The organisers of Farm Safety Week gave me these facts last week and went on to explain about agriculture’s appalling accident record. The terrible statistics are that farmers and farmworkers are 18 times more likely to die as a result of work related injuries than workers in all other UK industries put together.

NFU Scotland Chief Executive – Scott Walker put it another way “Fatal injuries in agriculture account for nearly quarter of all industrial workplace fatalities”

The worry that I have, is not only those tragic losses of life, but all the “near misses” that happen every day on farms.

Some of those accidents will have resulted in life-changing injuries and certainly a lot will have led to a great deal of time lost in recovery, not to mention trauma.

So, despite all the warnings and awareness campaigns over the years, things are steadily getting worse instead of better and behind every statistic there’s a heart-breaking personal story.

During my time in farming, I have lost no less than 3 friends to on-farm accidents and watched their grieving families torn-apart by family members who are no longer with them.

To say I still get upset about John, Richard and Bob who were all friends killed in a combine accident, a pick-up truck accident and falling through a roof, is an understatement. All of these incidents happened in flash and of course, they should have been avoidable …but then why did they happen?

In every case there were two common factors … Tired farmers, cutting corners and rushing to get the job done, but that’s no consolation to their families who are left with just memories. 

I have written many times before about cheap food policies which are not unique to Scotland or the UK, but commonplace around the world.

In order to supply cheap raw materials to the food and drink sector farmers and growers operate with minimal labour, working long hours, often alone and sometimes in remote locations.

Now, any Health and Safety Inspector will tell you that these are all raw ingredients for disaster.  They lead to temptations to cut corners with the simplest of tasks and getting away with a close shave once or twice may be called lucky. However, next time could be the one where luck runs dry and that was the case 39 times across the UK last year.

Simple things like a machine with a slightly dodgy guard, or animals that usually behave themselves despite a bent handling gate, are just a couple of examples of the recipes for tragedy and I’m sure that all those working on the land will know colleagues who have suffered as a result of incidents like these.

With the show season in full swing I’m sure everyone who works on our farms and crofts want to be talking to our colleagues and not about them.

But for now, I’ll leave the last word to Scott Walker …

“Safety must be number one priority – We fully appreciate the challenges facing those in the industry to get the job done when struggling to make a living, but there is nothing more important than your own life”.