The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is investigating after two people died in tragic farming-related accidents, just days before the start of national Farm Safety Week 2017.
The first man, named locally as Todd Riggs, was working on a farm in Pitts Cross, Shebbear, when he became trapped under a trailer. Emergency services from South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust and Devon and Cornwall Police were called, but sadly Mr Riggs was pronounced dead at the scene.
The second man was found dead on a farm in Southminster, Essex, after a work-related incident. Little information is known about the circumstances of the man’s death, but Essex Police and the HSE are investigating.
Tributes have poured in for Mr Riggs, who was well-known in the farming community and a member of the Devon Young Farmers’ Club. Speaking to Farmers Weekly, Ed Ford, chairman of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC), said that the death of Mr Riggs has come as “a huge blow to all involved with farm safety” and offered this advice to farmers during one of the busiest times of the year:
“Please, please, please be careful in this very busy time. Carry out safety checks, make sure machines are in good working order, don’t cut corners and don’t rush. How many more lives need to be lost before our industry sorts out its safety record?”
Tragically, Mr Riggs is the second farmer from the Devon Young Farmers’ Club to be killed this year. In March 2017, 20-year-old Lauren Scott from Kenton, near Exeter, was killed after becoming entangled in farm machinery on Springfield Farm near Dawlish, South Devon.
Farm Safety Week Encourages Precaution — But Is It Enough?
Today marks the start of Farm Safety Week 2017, an initiative promoting improved health and safety standards in agriculture. Now in its fifth year, FSW aims to reduce the number of fatal accidents on farms by encouraging farmers to check machinery and avoid taking unnecessary risks at work. The event is supported by several organisations, including Farm Safety Partnership, Farm Safety Foundation and the HSE.
While FSW plays an important role in promoting safer working practices among today’s farmers, the tragic events of last week, coupled with the HSE’s recent workplace fatalities report, suggest that more must be done to improve safety standards on farms — and urgently.
Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the UK, with 27 fatalities in the past year. The industry has a fatality rate 18 times higher than most other sectors, and yet accounts for just 1% of total UK employment. This means that farmers are among the most at-risk workers in the country, second only to construction workers in terms of total annual fatalities.
What’s most worrying about these statistics is that, after two decades of steady decline, the fatality rate for farm accidents is beginning to level off. This suggests that current health and safety provision is no longer adequate in safeguarding the lives of farm workers, and that the HSE may need to rethink its approach on how it continues to govern the safety of the industry.
The vast majority of accidents on farms involve vehicles and machinery, suggesting that greater education is needed in the safe operation of large and dangerous pieces of equipment.
There’s also the average age of farm workers to consider. In its workplace fatalities report, the HSE touched on the issue of age, with older workers 55+ being the most at-risk from serious and fatal injuries at work. Given that the average age of people working on farms in the UK is 59, this could suggest that an ageing workforce is the reason why fatality rates have begun to plateau.
No matter the industry or the average age of the workforce, everyone should enjoy a safe workplace. A cross-industry rethink is needed to tackle the problem of fatalities at work and ensure that UK workers are kept safe, even in the most dangerous of sectors.
If you or someone you know has been affected by workplace injury, find out how our specialist accident at work solicitors can help.