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Agricultural Machinery Fatality – Tips on Managing People’s Safety in Agricultural Settings

Another child fatality came to Court in March after a 4 year old was killed when he was run over by a telehandler being driven by his uncle on the family farm in Lancashire.  The HSE statistics for fatalities in agriculture show that at least one child has died on farms every year since 2016 and most cases involve vehicles.

Family farms are often run by one or two people whose activity levels will vary during the working day and most of which now involve mechanical equipment be it a quad, a tractor or a telehandler.  The busiest times are often in the morning or evening and for many months of the year, working will be carried out in the dark and by vehicle lights.

Pretty much every serious workplace transport hazard is often on site.  Vehicles operating on frequently wet and dirty surfaces, cramped manoeuvring areas with limited lighting, unassisted reversing, heavy and uneven loads and more often in the last few years, tired and old machinery.

There are lots of things to attract children on family farms; big machines, animals, buildings to play in, generally where they’re most likely to find their parents.

Farms remain the most dangerous workplace in UK by some margin.  41 deaths in 2020/21, the highest proportion of which were vehicle related and two of which were children.  8 children have been killed on farms in the last 5 years.

Keeping children off the farm can be hard for all involved.  Farms can be isolated with friends a long way away.  The work involves long hours, often at the times when children are at home and wanting to see their parents.  Many want to be involved in the family business and have become accustomed to what goes on there, along with the risks and hazards and its not too realistic trying to prevent them being there.

The secret is probably to accept they are going to be there and adapt to make the place as safe as you can for them.  Show them what can harm them, and how. Teach them how to stay safe.  Adapt equipment so they can ride safely on it if that’s possible, and only as a quad passenger on machines designed for it; make them wear helmets and seat belts.  Keep the yard safe from things that they can fall into and from things that may fall on them.  Keep the keys out of the machines, stores locked and make your children phone before they come to see you, so you know they’re there.

Be careful about allowing or trusting your children to make the right and safe decisions.  Many serious accidents happen because even experienced and competent people make simple mistakes, try to do things they shouldn’t often for the best reasons, or are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Always worth keeping an eye on the NFU advice at:  https://www.nfuonline.com/updates-and-information/farm-safety-hub-your-guide-to-staying-safe-on-farm/

Melvin Sandell was an Inspector with the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for 16 years. He worked as a regulatory inspector in the food, agriculture and woodwork industries and latterly in the HSE’s Entertainment and Leisure Sector. If you wish to speak with Melvin about safety in the agricultural industry please email melvin.sandell@finch-consulting.com.

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