Farm accidents blamed on risk-taking culture

A "culture of risk-taking" in farming makes it the UK's most dangerous employment sector, Health & Safety Executive (HSE) principal agricultural inspector for the South East Mike Walters told the National Fruit Show.

Barn roof: falls from height are among the most common accidents
Barn roof: falls from height are among the most common accidents

"We can visit fresh produce growers (unannounced) because of the risks involved, especially with migrant labour," he said.

"Agriculture as a whole has the worst health and safety record of all industries and it's actually getting (proportionally) worse because the total number of people in the industry is shrinking."

With just 1.5 per cent of the workforce, farming accounts for nearly 20 per cent of workplace fatalities, or nearly one a week, he pointed out. "You are four times more likely to be killed or injured than in construction. Yet the majority of these deaths could be prevented by simple precautions."

Accidents involving transport or falls from height, particularly roofs, are among the most common, said Walters. "We expect the same standards of vehicle maintenance off-road as on. But quad bikes are the bane of my life. People think anyone can drive them and drive them like motorbikes, take passengers or overload them."

He added: "We don't say no children on the farm but you have a responsibility to supervise them," and pointed out that workers in agriculture also have higher rates of ill health - from bacterial infections to bad backs.

Walters admitted: "The HSE is losing agricultural experts." But since 2012 the HSE has also been able to recover costs from those it investigates. "Our budget has been cut by 50 per cent under this Government but we have kept front-line services and we are even recruiting," said Walters.


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