Focus on on-farm safety protocols as harvest season approaches

As field work is in full swing and harvest is fast approaching, farmers are urged to review their on-farm safety protocols, to ensure the spike in accidents and fatalities over the past year is reversed.

The inherent hazards of farm work, in general, and harvest time, in particular, were the subject of a recent webinar on pre-harvest safety hosted by the Farm Safety Partnership.

See also: Farmers advised to install fire extinguisher kit before harvest

With 41 deaths on farms last year and an agricultural fatality rate around 20 times the national average, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) agricultural inspector Eve Macready Jones said farmers should wear a special attention to transport and machinery – which were in the top three causes of death.

“Last year there were six fatalities from machine-related incidents alone,” she said. “There was one with a PTO shaft; the others included incidents with excavator buckets, trailers and various tractor attachments.

“Most of these incidents occurred because of maintenance issues, making adjustments without isolating [the power]and the unblocking of different parts of the machinery – if avoidable, I would say.

© Tim Scrivener

Transport risks

While farmers had made improvements with PTO guards in recent years, transport remained a killer, with 13 fatalities in 2020-21. The main causes are the overturning and crushing of people by agricultural vehicles.

“The key thing here is failing to comply with Safe Stop,” Ms Macready Jones said. “It’s quite simplistic and we want you to consider what is reasonable.”

To open a door, the HSE would not expect you to follow every Safe Stop step. But for more complicated things, like making an adjustment, changing a kit, or clearing a blockage, using Safe Stop is key to avoiding fatalities.

Safety stop

  • Hand brake
  • Neutral
  • Switch off
  • Delete key

overhead power lines

Another major concern at harvest time is contact with overhead power lines (OHPL) – especially given the tendency of agricultural machinery to get bigger and, therefore, taller.

While there were only four deaths from electrocution from 2016 to 2021, there were more than 300 “contacts” reported in 2021, each representing a life-threatening event.

To encourage better awareness, the HSE will visit farms that have already had contact ahead of the 2022 harvest, to see what action they are taking now.

As well as advice from the Energy Networks Association, with its “Look out, Look up!” campaign, the HSE had similar guidance, including:

  • Know where OHPLs are on your land
  • Avoid working near them, if possible
  • Obtain or prepare a map showing the OHPLs
  • Make sure visiting workers/contractors are aware of danger points
  • Plan and use safe systems of work within OHPLs
  • Seek advice from the distribution network manager.

“If you hit an overhead line, we would tell you to stay in the cabin unless you can drive clearly,” Ms Macready Jones advised. “You then need to dial this number 105, which gets you to the network operator, who will take action to disable the line or send people to help you.”

Don’t let anyone else get close, she added, and if you really have to evacuate, jump in stride.

Work with contractors

Thorough communication about agricultural safety protocols is critical when engaging contractor services, said Matt Redman, vice president of the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, during the webinar.

Before even starting a job, it is crucial to clarify who is responsible for what in terms of risk management.

The farmer should then provide the contractor with clear and detailed instructions on where and what they are supposed to do, well in advance, including the provision of a clear map.

Matt Redman in the tractor cab

Matt Redman © Tim Scrivener

“You’d be surprised how many cards are just drawn in dust or on an envelope, and look nothing like the farm,” Mr. Redman said.

The map should include key safety information, such as overhead power lines, underground cables, public footpaths, areas of sloping ground, bridge strength, and location of livestock.

Contractors will also need to know the location of first aid facilities on the farm and any fire fighting equipment, as well as all emergency contact details and procedures.

“You have to clear things up for someone coming to the farm for the first time,” Mr. Redman said.

Advice for rural road users

As traffic builds up on rural roads in summer, increasing the risk of accidents, rural insurer NFU Mutual has issued the following advice to farmers:

  • Make sure all equipment is in working order, especially brakes and indicators on tractors and trailers
  • Be aware of hidden junctions and cycle paths and also inform contractors
  • Familiarize yourself with vehicle speed limits
  • Clean up the mud left on the road
  • Indicate early when turning and check if there are road users nearby
  • Stop in a safe place to allow traffic to pass.


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