Farmers across South Holland have been urged to make health and safety a priority as the busy harvesting season comes to a close.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which monitors work-related deaths and injuries, has warned farmers that it will “use its full powers to hold them accountable’ where it finds workers being put at risk.
HSE figures showed that 30 people died on British farms in 2016-17, including two in Lincolnshire, with agriculture having the highest rate of fatalities of any industry in Britain per 100,000 workers employed.
Dowsdale farmer Ian Stancer, former NFU Holland (Lincs) branch chairman, said: “Agriculture has always been dangerous but whereas other similar industries have improved their record, farming now sits at the bottom of the misery table.
“No farmer sets out to put themselves or their staff in danger but, sadly, the steady decline in profitability puts ever increasing pressure on their dwindling workforce.
“Long hours working heavy machinery, often in isolated locations, will inevitably exacerbate the risks.
This should be an anomaly that upsets the whole industry when it happens, but being far too frequent as it is, we merely accept itDonington farmer Chris Wray, chairman of the NFU Holland (Lincs) branch
“But this can never excuse lack of safety and everybody has a duty of care and responsibility.
“We must improve and if the HSE’s actions promote more care among those flouting sensible rules then farming benefits.”
But another South Holland farmer, who asked not to be named, said: “The health and safety obsession in this country is systematically driving businesses to the wall because the costs of embracing this ‘culture’ are too high and, most importantly, much higher than foreign competitors.
“Most serious accidents arise from thoughtless, careless and stupid behaviour, with some also due to cutting corners in order to save costs that some farms simply cannot afford.
“The ironic consequence, therefore, of an overbearing health and safety influence is that people can become robotic, less thoughtful and less self-aware.
“Economic pressures brought about by a combination of well-meaning, but intended legislation and more cynical, commercially driven so-called ‘best practice’ from a plethora of businesses riding on such a bandwagon sometimes only leads to further risk taking and corner-cutting.
“Fatality and injury at work is of course a tragedy that should always be avoided but at what cost?
“Being poverty-stricken, penniless and unemployed is also tragic and is affecting swathes of families and communities in the UK, in far greater numbers than affected by actual accidents at work.
“Most farming sectors, heavy industry, manufacturing, public and private sector projects are now completely undermined by cheaper foreign competition for their goods and services.
“Perhaps it is time the Health and Safety ‘movement’ paused for breath and considered the wider implications of its actions.”
In its Guidance on the Safe Use of Tractors and Machinery on Farms, the HSE stated that between 2005 and 2014, 94 out the 193 fatalities on British farms involved vehicles and machinery.
Rick Brunt, HSE’s head of agriculture, said: “We are committed to ensuring that all remain safe during the harvesting season through our ongoing programme of inspections.
“We are encouraging farmers to do all they can to reduce the likelihood of incidents and would like to remind all employers of their legal obligation to comply with health and safety law as one poor decision could have life-changing implications.”
In response to the HSE statistics about farming fatalities, Donington farmer Chris Wray, chairman of the NFU Holland (Lincs) branch, said: “This is very sad news but I suspect that we are far too used to hearing about deaths within our industry.
“However, this should be an anomaly that upsets the whole industry when it happens, but being far too frequent as it is, we merely accept it.
“As an industry, our natural working environment is extremely hazardous and to multiply the risk, more often than not, we are alone.
“A single farmer crawling under a machine to unblock it, knowing it is going to rain if he doesn’t get finished as the financial implications could mean the difference between making and losing money in a year’s time.
“This is a far cry from the companies, with multiple employees and the relevant ‘Health and Safety Officer’ as most other industries operating machinery as large and dangerous as in agriculture tend to be.
“We don’t set out to put ourselves at risk, but factors out of our control often tend to cloud our judgement.
“So let’s hope that the work being done by the HSE and NFU will try and improve the situation.”