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Vice President's Blog - 27 February 2020

Fresh from representing NFU Scotland at the UK Farm Safety Partnership meeting, Vice President Charlie Adam looks at some of his past discretions and how we, as an industry, move away from our reputation for poor health and safety.

Recently I attended a meeting of the UK Farm Safety Partnership at Stoneleigh along with NFUS policy manager Zoe Meldrum. In addition to representatives from England and Wales, the acting Head of Agriculture at HSE attends acting as an advisor to the group. These meetings are inevitably uncomfortable, as we know we will be confronted with the undeniable fact that our record of death and injury is twice as bad as that of the next worst sector, namely construction.

If you’ll pardon the reference, when challenged over our safety record at a Safety Partnership meeting, I find myself with not much of a leg to stand on!



As a representative of this Partnership, I’m now sent immediate notice of every farm death in the UK, including, on one day last year, two children killed in a single day. This brings the reality of the situation into sharp focus. Sometimes the first reaction is to come out with the usual excuses many of us, including me, tend to make - ‘We’re under pressure due to weather, time, lack of profitability…’, ‘We want our children to be involved in the farm’,  ‘We can’t afford to do things the safe way’, ‘Wearing helmets, ear defenders or goggles means we can’t do the job as well as we want to’ and ‘accidents and injuries only happen to other careless, less able or capable people’. I’ve said and thought all these things on occasion myself and some of them are entirely reasonable arguments but that said, I’ve got damaged eyes, ears and limbs as a result of taking risks, and if I’m honest, I’ve also taken chances and had several lucky escapes which could easily have resulted in serious injury or even death. Of course, not everyone is as gung-ho (stupid?) as I’ve been, but I suspect many of us do plenty things we shouldn’t.

Our poor record in comparison with that of the construction industry, may well be due in part to the fact that, in comparison to farms, many construction sites are larger concerns with dedicated health and safety staff on site enforcing adherence, along with a much higher likelihood that bad practice will be noticed and stopped and, unlike us, they can pass the cost of doing the job safely on to the customer.

In comparison, a far greater proportion of farms are small family or one person businesses where there is nobody solely dedicated to health and safety compliance. In these circumstances the bottom line is that on most farms we must take personal responsibility for the safety of ourselves and any other people of whatever age or role on the farm.

Taking that responsibility is a must if we are to continue to have the freedom to farm with family involvement in the way we want and this requires a bit of forethought, preparation and planning along with sensible decision making before undertaking any activity.

That said, given that the current approach in attempting to improve the situation is clearly not working, probably because at least some of the asks seem impractical and unrealistic to those working on the ground, there is little point in just repeating the same message over and over, achieving the same non-result. While some requirements are beyond argument and a ‘no brainer, other advice which, while it would undoubtedly eliminate accidents if carried out, looks so impractical or unacceptable that it is ignored, resulting in no improvement at all. Less absolute but more immediately ‘do-able’ approaches which lead to a reduction in, if not elimination of, accidents might at least result in better practice and represent a first step on the road to a complete culture change over time.

Spring calving and field work are underway or just around the corner, so let’s all just take a moment before we start to think if there’s a safer way to do the job and prevent the pain or tragedy that can result if we don’t.

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James Porter

472 days ago

Well said Charlie. I think there is a strong case for Health and Safety audit time be compulsory and funded through basic payment scheme?
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