It's Not As Dangerous as it Looks.
These are the reassuring words a farmer gave to me as he stood in his improvised “cherry-picker”. This comprised of a potato box on a fork-lift that he cleverly controlled himself from the box by attached ropes to the fork lift controls. (3)
These are the words given to me when I pulled over to talk to the farmer as he was drilling his field with his thirteen-years-old son riding on the drill as he traversed the field. (2)
These are the words my brother-in-law said to my son as he was repairing the baler without locking off the blades. (1)
These are the words the farmer said to me as he climbed down the ladder having walked across the corrugated shed roof that he was working on. (3)
These are the words the farmer said to me as he lay beneath his truck replacing the exhaust whilst it was supported on a bottle jack without any props or blocks.(2)
These are the words said to me by the farmer that plugged his office heater in with a damaged plug. He told me he was forever damaging plugs and had run out of spares. When I replaced it for him with a spare I had in my car the old plug had the neutral lead wired into earth and earth to neutral. When I showed him it he said, “Well it still worked!”(3)
These are the words said to me by the young farmer as he went into the back of the cattle trailer to push out the young bull!(7)
Now all these incidents are over a number of years – but the exact words said to me each time were the same. Money, tiredness, familiarity, time and experience are all the challenges that health and safety have to compete with. I really do get it. It is no surprise that the biggest risk-takers I see on the farm are usually the farm business owners. This ties in with the statistics where 56% of fatalities are self-employed. It is a truth that often farmers will take risks that they would not allow employees to do. This disregard for self is ironic, because the loss or injury of the farm owner can have a far greater economic impact than on any other individual – yes it is a reality in life that we all have differing economic values and impacts.
Yet safety is not the responsibility of just the farm owner, but of every individual working on, visiting , or living on a farm. I have met dozens of farmers and farm-workers with permanent injuries. Yet there is seldom a farm I have visited that I don’t see at least some small thing that can be done to improve safety. Some of the more common risks I see are:
- Repairing of machinery whilst it is still on or even moving without appropriate isolation or locking off of moving parts.
- People operating machinery with little or no knowledge or experience learning as they go along – this is common throughout the industry and a repeated norm. Especially prone to this are seasonal workers with such a strong have a go attitude it often leads to mishap and damaged machinery.
- People not accepting their limitation of ability, strength, ability, age or lack of experience when handling livestock.
- Tiredness. The pressures, are such that farmers are particularly prone to this. For short periods seasonally it may be manageable – but prolonged has a debilitating impact on both physical and mental health. Mistakes are more likely when tired. Lorry drivers are possibly one of the few professions in this country to have their hours restricted for safety reasons – perhaps we can learn from this?
- Demarcation of public/pedestrian areas. This is normal in a factory environment. Unfortunately a farm is very open and can be prone to any fool wandering into the work place not being aware of hazards – signs or painted zone footways are inexpensive.
Finally footwear – this is my biggest bug bear as safety shoes and boots are a cheap and quick win yet the most common footwear I see worn on farms are bog standard trainers or walking boots. The next most common footwear I see are all leather dealers. The excuses for this are common:
“I don’t find safety shoes/boots comfortable.” – There is a huge range available as you can see from the photo all these items of safety shoe that my wife and I wear from smart brogues, bog standard safety shoes and trainers.
“They are not fashionable” – FFS you work on a farm and you can get safety footwear in all sorts of designs to suit your taste!
“They are too expensive for workers to wear.” This is utter rubbish as safety footwear can be bought for just under £20 and a good range of styles is available for up to £30. Note of the footwear pictured that price range was between £15 and £25!
“Safety boots don’t stop you getting injured”. I strongly disagree with this – they not only protect the toes and soles of the feet reducing the impact of an injury, they also give varying protection from and they generally enable better grip on surfaces made slippery by dirt, grease, ice or liquids.
Next time you’re on a farm look what is on your feet!
(The numbers in brackets total 21 and are the number of people that I have known that have died from incidents or machinery similar to that described in my lifetime. At the time of writing I am 56 years old).