Farm Safety Week: Agricultural fatal injuries rising

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The Health & Safety Executive has issued a timely report in conjunction with Farm Safety Week (19 to 23 July 2021).

It makes sobering reading. It reveals how 41 people lost their lives in agriculture-related incidents from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021. In the preceding year, there had been 18 fewer fatalities. The five-year average is 33 per annum.

Whilst the number of fatalities in the agriculture sector has halved, since the early 1980s, the actual rate in this sector is stated by HSE to be twenty times higher than the rate for all sectors combined.

The report confirms a continuing issue: that the agriculture sector continues to need to address risk assessment, training and safe systems at work that need to be rigorously implemented. To put it in sporting terms, the team is in the wrong place in the league table and league tables do reflect reality, not least over a longer period of data.

These are some of the primary causes of the deaths from 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021 (five-year average to 31 March 2021 in brackets):

  • struck by moving vehicles: 13 (10)
  • killed by an animal: 11 (6)
  • contact with machinery: 6 (4)
  • struck by an object: 4 (4)
  • fall from height: 3 (4)
  • other causes: 4 (6).

Over a five-year period, 14% of deaths were members of the public. The other 86% were self-employed (58% of incidents) and employees (28% of incidents). Tragically, eight children have been killed on farms over the last five years, of which two occurred last year.

Half of the transport or machinery incidents were caused by all-terrain vehicles, tractors, trailers, skid-steer loaders, and telehanders. Machinery-related events involved excavator buckets, forklift trucks, power take-off shafts and tractor attachments. An additional fatality was caused by a quad bike.

Just as incidents tend to relate to vehicles, livestock and machinery, it is also clear that age is a major factor. More than 50% related to workers over 60 years of age. 38% is the five-year average for that age group. The figures are very low for the under 45-age band.

In geographical terms, the highest concentration of incidents tend to be in Scotland, Yorkshire and the Humber, Wales, the West Midlands, the North West and the South West. The East incurred no fatalities last year.

Any incident has its own explanation and cause – and, of course, because a death occurs does not always mean, of itself, that any offence has therefore been committed by an employer or fellow worker. It may be the case that this has all occurred despite all reasonably practical steps being taken to ensure safety, whilst always a tragedy. Conversely, businesses that do not put in place necessary measures leave themselves at risk of formal intervention by the HSE – penalties are now based on turnover, actual or potential harm and the degree of culpability on the part of that business that can lead to very significant fines, or worse, for business owners.

Our Agriculture and Regulatory law teams can help you

Ashtons Legal provides dedicated, niche advice in the areas of agricultural law, regulatory law and road transport law.

For more information about this or any other aspects of agriculture law, regulatory law or road transport law please get in touch with us through our online enquiry form or by calling 0330 404 0749. We would be delighted to help you and your business.


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