The hazards of working in the agricultural sector were highlighted this week after the tragic death of Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence at his family’s farm in Ireland. In England and Wales there is almost one death per week in the agricultural industry with 56 % of all fatalities being self employed farmers . Only 1.5 % of the population are employed in Agriculture yet the sector is responsible for 15-20 % of all work fatalities . The main causes of fatal accidents are from the use of vehicles on farms , falls from height and being struck by falling objects such as hay bales.
Nevin Spence died alongside his brother and father following a rescue attempt when the family dog fell into the underground slurry pit on their family farm. Slurry is basically cow manure which is washed in to the pit to be recycled on to the farmland at a later date . It lets off a mixture of poisonous invisible gasses such as methane , ammonia and worst of all hydrogen sulphide which can knock out your sense of smell. One tried to rescue the other before seemingly they all were overcome by the gasses .The Health and Safety Executive in Ulster described the number of farm fatalities in recent times as being continual and unrelenting and commented that people were no longer perceiving risk the way they used to. Why is this ? Most farmers work for themselves with family and perhaps a few employees.
The HSE puts the financial squeeze on farming as one of the causes of high fatalities.However the main issue appears to be cultural with health and safety not being valued high enough up the list of farming priorities. The most effective defence against death and serious injury is common sense according to the HSE.
What price common sense when this month is also the month the Government announce an intention to lower health and safety thresholds in small businesses as , apparently , a way to free small businesses from unnecessary red tape. If its a cultural shift they are after then it’s not the cultural shift the Health and safety Executive are talking about.