Common farming accidents and ways to avoid them
By its nature, farming can be risky work. Heavy machinery, unpredictable livestock, animal diseases, agricultural chemicals, and many other risk factors can come into play. What’s more, not only are farmers accountable for the health and safety of employees, but also visitors to the farm – from drivers and veterinarians to inspectors and members of the public. In this article, we offer an overview of farm health and safety, identify common accidents, and suggest ways of guarding against them. Finally, we will briefly discuss the insurance required for farming to safeguard yourself in the event of an unfortunate accident.
- How safe is farming?
- What types of accidents have the most fatalities?
- Managing health & safety on farms
- Undertake thorough farm risk assessments
- Avoiding common farming accidents
- Safety, inspections, and insurance
How safe is farming?
Farming can be made safer, with the right planning, safeguards, and risk management. Indeed, since the 1980s, the annual number of fatal injuries to agricultural workers has fallen by 50%.
That said, Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) report Fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain 2021/22 points out that agriculture still has the worst rate of worker fatal injury, with levels 21 times higher than the main industrial sectors.
For this reason, it’s wise to be aware of the most common farming accidents and ways of avoiding them.
What types of accidents have the most fatalities?
According to the same HSE report, there were 25 deaths in the sector during 2021/22, a rate of 8.03 people per 100,000. Thirteen of the fatalities were self-employed people, nine were employees, and three were members of the public.
Below are the accident types that occurred:
- eight people hit by a moving vehicle – such as tractors, ATVs, a 4×4, an HGV, and a telescopic handler.
- five struck by an object – including trees, bales, and a tyre.
- four killed by machinery – such as a log splitter, a tractor/topper, and a horse walker.
- two falls from height – including falls through fragile roofs.
- two killed by livestock – one death by a cow, one by a herd of cattle.
- two killed by something collapsing – by a vehicle and a seed drill.
- two asphyxiated / drowned – by slurry fumes and in a drainage barrel.
These figures are broadly comparable with the five-year average. Between 2017 and 2022, the most common causes of death were as shown in the table below.
|Hit by moving vehicle||30%||Killed by something collapsing||6%|
|Killed by animals||20%||Asphyxiation / drowning||4%|
|Struck by objects||14%||Contact with electricity||2%|
|Falling from height||12%||Other causes (slips, trips, fire etc)||3%|
|Killed by machinery||10%|
Managing health & safety on farms
Effective risk management on farms delivers significant benefits. When workers are safer and healthier, morale and productivity increase while sickness and absence decrease. Properly maintained machinery lasts longer, saving you money. You are also less likely to need to claim on your farm insurance, not to mention a much lower chance of facing legal or enforcement action if something goes wrong.
But how do you manage health and safety (H&S) on farms? The HSE’s guide recommends taking five steps. They are:
- Set your policy. Create an H&S action plan specific to your farm and create systems and procedures for protecting the health and safety of all workers.
- Organise your workers. Create a strong H&S culture by communicating about hazards, risks, and precautions, involve workers in planning for safe work, ensure employees have the qualities and skills they need for any task and nominate people responsible for particular H&S tasks.
- Plan and set standards. Ensure you set high expectations and clarify how to adhere to policies and control risk.
- Check how you are doing. Monitor tasks regularly, such as via spot checks and inspections, and investigate why anything goes wrong.
- Learn from experience. Review your policies regularly to find out how to improve them and make your working environment safer.
Undertake thorough farm risk assessments
Risk assessments are essential for maintaining high levels of health and safety on farms. It’s a good idea to get training on how to create robust risk assessments and managing health and safety. Our IOSH and NEBOSH courses provide comprehensive health and safety training for all levels of experience, with a qualification awarded at the end of the course.
You can also find plenty of guidance on creating risk assessments online. The HSE recommends undertaking the following steps:
- Identify hazards: look for immediate hazards, such as working from height, or long-term health hazards, such as exposure to chemicals.
- Think about who could be harmed: consider who is at risk of harm and how.
- Consider risks and decide on precautions: can you eliminate the hazard, or can you control the risk (such as by completing the task in a safer way, preventing access to a hazard, reducing exposure to it, or improving PPE)?
- Put the results into practice: deal with the improvements, starting with the riskiest, and share information about hazards with those who need it.
- Keep checking: review your risk assessment regularly and ensure your controls are followed.
Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service also publish a helpful guide to completing a risk assessment, which you can download here.
Avoiding common farming accidents
Let’s now look at some common farming accidents and some practical ways you can avoid them.
1. Accidents with vehicles
As we’ve seen, accidents with vehicles are the most common cause of fatalities in agriculture. To manage risk with vehicles, the HSE recommends considering three main areas: the vehicle, the driver, and the site.
Vehicles: make sure all vehicles are properly maintained, inspected daily before use, and capable of doing their intended tasks. Check roll-over protective structures and seatbelts are fitted if there’s a risk of overturning. Make sure vehicles are not used for excessive or unstable loads.
Drivers: ensure drivers are fit to drive, adequately trained, and don’t allow passengers except where there is a designated passenger seat. Make sure drivers always perform a ‘safe stop’ by applying the handbrake, putting the controls in neutral, turning off the engine, and removing the key.
Sites: separate vehicles and pedestrians where possible. Design vehicle routes to minimise reversing and ensure visiting drivers are aware of your rules. Keep routes well-maintained and lit.
For more details on vehicle safety, including tips for the safe operation of tractors, ATVs, and telehandlers, see this detailed guidance from HSE.
2. Accidents with animals
Animals can pose a threat to workers, members of the public, and anyone else who encounters them. Firstly, there’s the threat of injury or even death from larger animals such as bulls and cows, and even sheep, goats or pigs can prove troublesome.
Disease is also a risk when people come into contact with animals. Some 20,000 people are affected by diseases passed to humans from animals yearly, such as avian influenza.
Additionally, veterinary medicines and equipment, such as syringes, can cause ill health or injury if used incorrectly. To mitigate these different risks, you should ensure:
- Veterinary medicines and equipment are kept under lock and key.
- Workers and visitors understand the need to wash and dry their hands using running warm water, soap, and paper towels to prevent cross-contamination.
- Unauthorised people can’t enter yards, pens, or other places where animals are kept.
- Put up warning signs when bulls are in publicly accessible fields.
Ideally, it’s also best to fence off rights of way as needed, ensuring animals can’t access them. You also need to assess the risks employees, vets, and inspectors face when handling animals. Good practices include:
- Well trained workers
- Properly maintained, suitable handling facilities
- A race and crush suitable for animals to be handled
- A culling policy for temperamental livestock
You can learn more about safe working with animals on this HSE page about livestock.
3. Other accidents
Many other types of agricultural accidents are also common in other industries. Below we offer a short summary of your responsibilities and point you towards more detailed guidance.
Working from height
To avoid falls from height, you need to follow these rules in order:
- Avoid working from height where possible
- Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls
- Use work equipment or other measures that minimise the distance and consequences of a fall
For example, if you need to work on a fragile roof, first consider whether it’s necessary to access the roof. If it is, can the work be done from below or on a platform? If it can’t, will roof ladders and crawling boards be of safe dimensions?
> More about working from height.
Contact with electricity
As well as the usual risks from normal electrical systems and portable equipment, farming activities may also face risks from overhead power lines (OHPLs) and underground cables. Electricity can arc from OHPLs, so it’s important not to use machinery or undertake activities within a horizontal distance of 10 metres – including stacking materials, moving ladders or scaffolding, or erecting structures such as polytunnels. Similarly, if you suspect that any excavation may be near an underground cable, you need to ask the Distribution Network Operator (DNO) to confirm their location or – if they are your own cables – call in an expert to help you locate them.
> More about electricity and safe working.
Safety, inspections, and insurance
Given that machinery causes a significant number of accidents each year, it’s a good idea to make sure yours is safe and in good working condition. Regular engineering inspections at six or twelve month intervals can help ensure that your machinery complies with the law and doesn’t invalidate your insurance. To find out more about regular engineering inspections for your farm equipment and machinery, talk to Alan Boswell Risk Management at 01603 967900.
The type of agricultural insurance you need depends on the type of farm you have. General farm insurance will include important cover such as public liability and employers’ liability, essential if an accident occurs.
For the best cover for you, talk to the Alan Boswell Group team on 01603 218000 today. We can advise you about cover that protects you against accidents but also options that protect your livestock, your crops, and even against pollution and environmental damage claims.