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Written on 15th March 2023 by Kim Milan

Workplace health and safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched a new safety campaign to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by accidents involving vehicles on farms

To those of us who work indoors, the idea of farming, being out in nature, driving a tractor or ploughing a field, can seem like the ultimate healthy (if physically demanding) working lifestyle. HSE’s latest campaign reminds us that when compared with other sectors, farms are amongst the most dangerous types of working environments.  Farm vehicles have an important role on working farms, but they must be used safely to avoid fatal and serious injuries to farm workers and visitors.

Why is HSE calling for greater vehicle safety on farms?

HSE’s annual statistics relating to workplace accidents and injuries list agriculture and farming as having the highest number of fatal and serious injuries of all industry sectors in Britain. Over the last five years, the average rate of fatal injuries in the agricultural and farming sector was 21 times higher than the average across all industries. HSE’s Head of Agriculture Policy, Sue Thompson, was recently quoted as saying, quite rightly, that this is ‘a shocking statistic’.

A deeper look at the accidents and injuries on farms in Britain shows that accidents involving vehicles are the leading cause of deaths and serious injuries on farms. Farm vehicle accidents were the cause of 30% or nearly a third of all fatal injuries on farms in the last five years. 48 people lost their lives in farm vehicle accidents.

In addition to these fatalities,  HSE says that hundreds of people suffer (non-fatal) injuries from accidents involving moving vehicles on farms each year. Most recently, HSE reported their prosecution of a farmer who paid two teenagers to clear an area of land on his farm, which included excavation using a dumper vehicle on a steeply sloping area of ground. The farmer failed to question the youngsters’ age or experience when briefing them on the task to be completed. The steep slope was inappropriate for the dumper, according to the vehicle manufacturers’ recommendations.  The seatbelt was not accessible as the driver’s seat was covered with a fertilizer bag. Within hours of beginning work, one of the teenagers suffered a head injury when the dumper vehicle he was driving overturned on the steep slope.

HSE’s campaign to reduce deaths and injuries from farm vehicle accidents

HSE’s new campaign calls on farmers to take action in three areas of their daily farming activities, to reduce the risk of farm vehicle accidents and injuries.  Farms of all sizes can become safer places to work if farmers follow HSE’s practical tips and advice.

HSE reminds farmers that health and safety is a fundamental and legal requirement of a sustainable farming business and should be regarded as an essential part of everyday farming life. However, this campaign also aims to show that safety on the farm doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive, if farmers incorporate into their working routines HSE’s  ‘safe farm, safe driver, safe vehicle’ advice.

Farmers are encouraged to reduce the risk of serious injury on their farms by:

  • operating a safe farm;
  • maintaining a safe vehicle;
  • being a safe driver.

Operating a safe farm means keeping people and vehicles apart. HSE recommends doing this by using clearly marked routes and walkways, with additional barriers and posts used in high traffic areas. Visibility is key to safety, so HSE recommends using signs, good lighting and high visibility clothing to ensure that everyone on the farm can be seen.

Maintaining a safe vehicle means detecting and repairing faults as part of the regular routine, rather than causing injury by leaving it too late.  This means regularly checking and maintaining brakes and ensuring that trailers are fitted with appropriate brakes for their maximum loads and speeds. Vehicle doors should be attached securely and remain closed when the vehicle is moving. Vehicle mirrors should be fitted securely and be clean for optimum visibility. Wearing a properly fitted seatbelt is also an essential part of farm (or any) vehicle safety.

Being a safe driver means using HSE’s safe stop routine before getting off or out of a vehicle. The four-step safe stop procedure involves engaging the handbrake, ensuring the gears are in neutral, switching off the engine or power, and removing the key or locking off the power supply. HSE advises that safe stop should be used before leaving the driver’s seat or operating position, when anyone else approaches the vehicle, or before anyone carries out maintenance, or tries to adjust or unblock the vehicle/machinery. According to HSE, 60% of all running over accidents which have occurred on British farms could have been prevented simply by using the handbrake.

HSE says that being a safe driver also includes ensuring that the vehicle’s driver has been trained in the use of that specific vehicle. All vehicles should have clean windows and mirrors to maintain visibility, and accidents involving blind spots should avoided by keeping other people where they can be seen, away from the vehicle, when it is moving.

What a Good Farm Looks Like – HSE’s easy-to-read guidance for farm safety

HSE’s publication, What a Good Farm Looks Like, provides easy-to-read, practical advice on making farms safe, which can help farmers comply with legal H&S requirements and protect their workers and visitors from injury. In addition to the safe farm, safe vehicle, safe driver actions already highlighted above, other tips for farm vehicle safety from the guidance include:

  • ensuring that drivers always turn uphill when working across a slope and descend straight down the gentlest gradient;
  • checking that loads are stable, secure and within appropriate weight limits;
  • avoiding reversing wherever possible;
  • only carrying passengers of recommended age on a passenger seat;
  • telehandler and lift truck operators should be trained by qualified instructors and have passed a practical and theory test;
  • annual, regular, thorough and competent examination of any vehicle/equipment which lifts loads around or over people; 
  • equipment and accessories used to lift people should be thoroughly examined at least every six months;
  • riders of quad bikes and other all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) must be trained and assessed by a qualified instructor and wear appropriate helmets;
  • ATV tyre pressures and brakes should be tested before use and the throttle should operate smoothly in all steering positions;
  • brakes, mirrors, reversing cameras, cab structures and access steps on all vehicles must be kept in good condition;
  • unsafe machinery should be disabled or isolated with a warning notice attached, so that it can’t be used inadvertently;
  • cabs, bodies and trailers are securely propped up when work is being carried out underneath them, to avoid relying on hydraulics or pneumatics.

Compensation for farm accident injury

Boyes Turner’s personal injury team welcome the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) valuable work in raising awareness of the dangers of farm vehicle accidents. More importantly, we support this campaign’s message that small but important actions, taken daily and task by task as a part of the regular working routine can make a difference in reducing fatal and life-changing serious injury.

Where the negligence of an employer or co-worker leads to severe injury or disability, we can help the injured person (or their bereaved, dependant family) recover their entitlement to funded rehabilitation and substantial compensation.

If you have been severely injured or bereaved as a result of an accident at work, you can talk to one of our experienced solicitors, free and confidentially, to find out more about making a claim by contacting us here.