As farms and estates prepare for the upcoming harvest, it might be a good time for farmers and estate owners to review their health & safety procedures – particularly given the latest Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics which report a rising number of agricultural related deaths.

In comparison to other industry sectors in the economy, farming has one of the poorest safety records. The incident related deaths in UK agriculture rose from 30 in 2016/2017 to 33 in 2017/2018 and as recently reported, to 39 in 2018/2019.

Indeed the recently reported increase of workplace deaths in Scotland is largely due to the increase in incident related deaths in the agriculture, fishing and forestry sectors where deaths rose from 5 to 13.

The dangers of the farming sector have long been recognised and we have seen an increasing level of activity around improving health & safety. In the run up to Farm Safety Week (15-19 July 2019) the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Farm Safety Partnership (FSP) highlighted steps being taken to improve the safety record in agriculture.

In particular, farmers were encouraged to share stories of safety improvements on farms so that the industry as a whole can learn from them and develop best practice. This is something we already see happening in other sectors, for example in the oil & gas and marine industries, where there have been huge improvements in health and safety through, amongst other things, sharing information and ideas.

Prior to Farm Safety week, the NFU also hosted a series of workshops around the country to demonstrate to farmers the difference which can be made by simple changes to their farms and businesses. At the start of Farm Safety Week, NFU Vice President Stuart Roberts urged farmers to take the next step and start implementing these changes on their farms.

These sectors are buoyant in Scotland and without change we are unlikely to see any improvement in the figures. NFU and the FSP have launched a major yearlong campaign in 2019 to work towards reducing workplace fatalities on farms by 50% by 2023 and hopefully we will soon start to see the impact of this campaign.

When it comes to harvest time – the combination of busyness, high levels of seasonal/temporary workers and increased use of machinery make it crucial for farmers and owners to be aware of the potential dangers and risks and how to mitigate them – thinking about things such as training, supervision, risk assessments and plant maintenance.

The Health and Safety Executive website has numerous resources if you are a farm or estate owner looking to improve working practices.