Tending to a farm in the countryside sounds like an idyllic lifestyle for some: driving tractors on open fields, or herding sheep in the summer breeze. Unfortunately, in practice, working in the agriculture sector is full of dangers that can cause serious injury and even death. Most of these events are accidental and highly preventable, but the demanding nature of farming means working with industrial machines and unpredictable animals that can cause serious injuries.
We therefore ask the question: is farming the most dangerous job in Britain? If it is, what can we do to improve the situation?
Farmer Jim Chapman lost his arm working on a 500 acre farm in Warwickshire at the age of 23. When one machine wasn’t working correctly, he ended up permanently injured: “I got too close and my arm went round the shaft. It ripped it off just below the shoulder. The hospital patched me up but it wasn’t until the following year that it really hit me,” explained Chapman.
Losing an entire arm at 23 is obviously bound to have a lasting implication on his entire life. The loss prompted the now-25 year old to join the Farm Safety Foundation, a charity dedicated to raising awareness about safety when working on farms; particularly for young people.
Not an isolated incident
Chapman’s case wasn’t a rare incident. Many farmers have reportedly lost limbs to farming equipment and even the animals they raise.
“We all know people who have had squashed fingers or who have lost limbs,” says Phil Latham, whose grandfather lost a leg after it was trampled on by a horse and developed gangrene. After the leg was amputated, Latham’s grandfather used a wooden prosthetic – an heirloom that Latham still possesses as a constant reminder of the risks farming brings.
These aren’t just scare stories – the statistics speak for themselves. In the last five years, over 150 people have reportedly died working in the farming industry.
That’s too many…
A need for change
Latham recognises a need for change:
“Sometimes it’s the pressure of harvest. You have to get the job done, but we all need to start doing things differently.”
Many of the injuries are completely preventable and workers need to prioritise their health and safety above the job or disregarding time-consuming safety measures. Vice president of the National Farmers Union, Guy Smith, warns that “a lot of injuries and fatalities could be avoided by farmers and farm workers taking simple precautions and the individual not wilfully exposing themselves to danger through bad practice.”
It seems clear that younger workers need to learn from past tragedies not to risk life and limb just because they are under pressure to get a job done, and farm owners should perhaps rethink how they run their farms and the expectations placed on workers who come to help.
Health and Safety Executive inspector, Adrian Hodkinson, revealed that inspections will begin on potato harvesting this autumn:
“Through planning, the assessment of risks, and the introduction of appropriate controls, they can prevent another farm worker being injured or killed whilst doing their job. Everyone has the right to return home after a day’s work, safe and healthy.”
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for their workers, taking necessary steps to provide training, safety gear and equipment as needed. Farms are no exceptions.
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