Transport safety in farming
In this podcast, we discuss HSE’s agriculture campaign Your Farm Your Future, focusing on the risks of transport on farms with moving vehicles being are the highest cause of deaths in British farming.
Adrian Hodkinson, Agriculture Sector Lead, at HSE and Brian Rees, Farmer and Safety Trainer discuss some of the most common issues and what farmers can do to make small changes to protect them, their families and workers.
For more information on the campaign visit Work Right Agriculture - Work Right to keep Britain safe
Mick Ord (Host): If I were to ask you which sector of British industry was responsible for the highest rate of deaths and injuries per 100,000 workers, what would your answer? May the construction sector? No, it's the agriculture sector. My name's Mick Ord, and I'm here today on this HSE podcast to introduce you to some guest experts on the subject of safety in the agriculture sector.
HSE has just launched its Work Right Agriculture campaign to encourage everyone who works on the farm to take a little time out and think about how they could improve safety. My word is it needed. Over the past five years, there have been 161 fatal incidents on our farms and 11,000, yes, 11,000 injuries each year. We want to make 2023 a much safer year on our farms, and you can play your part by really engaging with the campaign, looking closely at the way in which you work, and thinking about how you can make it safer for everyone. Joining me today are two people who'll be able to help you to do that.
Adrian Hodgkinson is the head of HSE'S Agriculture sector and a Principal Inspector. He has many years’ experience and works with all the main agricultural organisations to improve the lives of everyone on farming. Adrian, welcome to the podcast.
Adrian Hodkinson: Good afternoon, Mick. Really good to be speaking with you.
Mick Ord (Host): And Brian Rees is a farmer in mid Wales and has been a safety instructor for nearly 40 years. Brian keeps sheep and hens on his farm and is involved in the Wales Farm Safety Partnership. Hi Brian.
Brian Rees: Hello. Nice to be here.
Mick Ord (Host): Adrian, can I start with you? Can we get down to the specifics straightaway? HSE has launched the Work Right Agriculture campaign to try to get those worrying stats down.
Do you know what the main causes appear to be?
Adrian Hodkinson: In agriculture workplace transport and moving vehicles are the biggest cause of fatal accidents in farming, people being killed in farming. And they account for a huge amount of the major injuries that we also see.
Mick Ord (Host): As you say, you've split the campaign into three main sections. Talk to us, if you will, about the first bit: Safe Farms. What areas are you targeting here?
Adrian Hodkinson: When we are talking about safe vehicle movements, we're talking about three things, really. It's the Safe Farm, having a Safe Environment, having a Safe Driver, and also a Safe Vehicle. So, in relation to having a safe farm, it's really about the layout of the farm, thinking about how you're segregating people from machinery.
Really, really crucial to keep people – pedestrians – away from moving machines. It's a good idea to maybe have a marked route where you've got frequent crossings across a yard, put up barriers or posts when you're opening a barn door and walking out into the yard just to make you stop and think and look around for vehicles, putting up signs, warning people that this is where people are going to be walking.
Having mirrors on the corners of building so you can see round and see what's coming. Maybe improving the lighting. Lighting's got a lot better nowadays with LED and all the rest of it, and you can really improve the lighting really effectively on farms and, um, making sure people are visible. At night, or when it's getting dusky, make sure you're wearing that high visibility clothing so you can be seen by drivers coming onto the farm or into the farm yard.
Mick Ord (Host): And that's true in the mornings as well. A lot of farmers starting very early , and it's quite often very dark in the mornings. It still is now, isn't it?
Adrian Hodkinson: Absolutely, Mick. Yeah. Well, when I say the evenings, I mean anytime when it's getting dusky and dark or just starting to be light in the mornings. So important to have good lighting, um, and make sure people can be seen.
Mick Ord (Host): Now you mentioned signage there and that's one of the things when I've been on farms, sometimes something will just appear around the corner, won't it? You know? So, I guess you would say the more signage, the better?
Adrian Hodkinson: Well, you don't want to go overboard, but having signs up just before, before you're approaching a busy area where people might be near the farmhouse or where children might be present, just to slow the driver down and think about what might be just around that corner, just putting up where it's needed. It really makes a difference.
Mick Ord (Host): Now, as a Principal Inspector, you've obviously visited farms of all sizes over the years. Generally, what would you say is the standard, like in terms of safe farms?
Adrian Hodkinson: Well, all farms are different. They do a fantastic job bringing in the food this country needs. We see a wide variety of different standards, so we, we see the huge farms that are really big commercial enterprises, and you get really good traffic arrangements in those sorts of places.
And then you get the smaller farm might be one man and his wife and small family running a smaller farm. And the standards can be equally as good, but they're much simpler usually. But it's so important to make sure that when people are coming on with deliveries, when vehicles are moving around in a hurry, at silaging time or at harvest time, that um, people are kept away from all that moving activity.
Mick Ord (Host): And you've got lots of walkers and hikers, haven't you? Everywhere. And it's quite easy, and I've done it myself to wander onto a bit of land that's private land, not knowing it necessarily, and all of a sudden you're on a private farm.
Adrian Hodkinson: Yeah, and we're coming up to Easter holidays, so it's a really good point, Mick. We're coming up to Easter holidays. There'll be a lot more people out enjoying the, the great British countryside. There will be more people around. Um, some parts of the country are much busier than others. If you're in the Peak District or in South Wales, uh, in the Brecon Beacons or wherever it might be, there's going to be lots and lots of people around at that time of year. So, looking after members of the public and keeping them away from moving vehicles is a really, really good point.
Mick Ord (Host): Now, Brian Rees, as I mentioned before, in addition to running your own farm and being a safety inspector for 40 years or so, you're also involved in the Wales Farms Safety Partnership. Have you got a real life example from one of the farms that you visited where there's been an accident as a result of poor safety procedure?
Brian Rees: I could keep you going for two hours on these. Yeah, it's amazing. You may go into a farm to do some training and you, if it's a lift truck course, you're usually there a couple of days and some take it very seriously and some almost consider it, you know, proud of it. I know one friend of mine, a family who know very well, the son rolled a quad on an open hill and it rolled for about 150 meters and smashed up down by the side of the main road. That really sort of, uh, gets to me a little bit, a lot of accidents on farms and there's a variety of reasons really. Farmers are rushing around. When a farmer needs something that needs doing, they only have one thing on their mind, and that's to get that job done and they don't necessarily think of what's happening around them.
A very good friend of mine, two years to now, he was calving. And one morning he went into his shed, the cow had calved, and there she was in the pen. They were lambing as well. So, they were busy doing other things. He went back by this cow in about an hour's time. The calf was looking a little bit hollow and he thought it hadn't sucked.
So he gets his wife when they get a jug of water, and you know when a calf hasn't sucked you have to put a tube down his throat into his stomach to get him going. So, he went into the cow, and she was fine. He actually milked about a couple of litres of colostrum off the cow, and he just turned his back on the cow and he caught hold of the calf and he was just opening his mouth, and the calf makes a little, "urrrghh" sort of sound and this cow just went berserk! Now his wife was facing the cow. She could see what happened. So, she tried to throw the jug of milk that she was holding at the cow, and she managed to escape. But Rob got really, she really mangled him. Now then, he's still alive, and I keep telling him regularly, he's very lucky to be alive. The son appeared from somewhere fairly quickly and he's a fairly big lad, and he literally manhandled this cow off him. It was amazing. Now, Rob used to be six foot two, he's now six foot and half an inch, because it smashed one complete vertebrae out of his back and they pinned him all back together. He's okay. But uh, you speak to him on a cold morning and he can hardly move, you know.
And that's just an example where it could have been cured so simply, you know, We actually filmed Rob on the farm and although his system was in place really, he had really quite good calving pens, the secret is you never get between the calf and the cow. Whatever you're doing, you've got to always be behind the barrier. Little things like that. But all that was on Rob's mind at that time, was getting milk into that cow's belly. Everything else goes out the window, and I think that happens with a lot of farm accidents.
Another one not far from here in North Wales, where a chap pulled a tractor on a steep slope. Top quality farmer, you know, involved in the Royal Welsh Show and amazing bloke. But I know, I can just imagine all he would have in mind was putting fertiliser down on a steep slope. He wouldn't have thought it necessary perhaps to put his twin wheels on the tractor. He may not have thought to check the tire pressures. He may not have thought to put his seatbelt on, and if he'd done any of those three things, he'd probably still be alive.
And that's the problem we have. Just making people stop for a few minutes and just think about what they're doing.
Mick Ord (Host): And of course, if somebody has been working in the industry for many years, and this is true of any industry really, isn't it? Uh, Adrian, it sounds arrogant. It's not meant to me, but you think you know it all, don't you?
Adrian Hodkinson: You get a bit complacent, don't you? You've been doing the same thing day in, day out. You've always done it that way. It's always worked out for you, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's the right way of doing things. And what we're finding is certainly with vehicles and drivers, if you're not doing things routinely correctly, you're going to get caught out. Something's going to go wrong. 60% of all the run over accidents on farms where you get run over, 60% of those could have been stopped by either the handbrake being on or the handbrake working. So many times, the handbrake just doesn't get maintained and doesn't actually work.
One example I can think of is that a guy was unhitching an implement off the back of the tractor. The handbrake didn't work, it wasn't maintained as he was trying to undo the various bits and pieces at the back on the linkages, the tractor just slowly started moving towards him. He, he didn't know, he had no idea this was happening. Ian, most careful person going thinking, "oh, I'm okay.". Just squashed between the machine and the implement, and it's just a slow, creeping, silent way of dying. Is horrible. Really, really awful way. And that could be prevented so easily by maintaining the handbrake and putting the handbrake on. I'm sure Brian's got similar stories like that.
Brian Rees: Yeah, yeah. He knows. It's so simple. So simple. Back to your point of saying that farmers think they know it all and we are a little bit, we are jack of all trades, aren't we?
Some people would say you're jack of all trades and master of none. But I wouldn't go quite that far. But we do tend to think, and you have, people that may have been driving tractors for 30 years, no problem. Then they go out and buy a really nice posh telehandler. Oh, this is a nice type. Oh, similar to a tractor or, but they don't realise it's an entirely different piece of equipment.
A few years ago, HSE did some visits through mid Wales and naturally they were going on to farms. And these are the sort of people I'm thinking about. People in their forties, fifties, sixties, probably never done the days training in their life. They'd been brought up on the farm and kept their skills going.
They got improvement notices then, for training. And I went along to this one farm. There was this chap and these two neighbours had come in for two days to do the course. And the first thing I do, especially with people like that, the first person on the machine at the start of a course is always me. I always demonstrate what I want to see.
Gives me a bit of cred because farmers are used to people coming onto their farms, telling them how to do their job when they've never done it themselves. So, the first thing I do is give a little 10-minute demonstration. And this one chap , he's had a telehandler for 20 years, and I got off after my demo and he said "how did you see to get those forks in the pallet?"
And I said, well, you lined the pallets up and then you line them up and drive in. He said, "I've never been able to do that. I've always got to ask the lottery driver to guide me in." And anyway, in the conversation it came out that he didn't know that the telehandler had a self-levelling device on the forks. Basic stuff like that. Well, that's the first thing I do. Within half an hour I had him driving in the pallets on the lorry and it made his two days. You know, we think we can do everything, but little simple things like that. That could cause an accident. There was about 12 people altogether. I did over about eight days, and four of them actually rang the training provider up a few days after and said, "I like this training job. What else can we do?" And one group of them did a quad, then the following week. Quad training. They weren't asked to do that, but they'd never experienced training, you know, and when we compare us with other industries, say construction, they are training for everything really. You could dream of. And what is it? Adrian will know the figures better than me, but they kill something like 1.5 or 1.3 per hundred thousand, and we kill something like eight or nine per hundred thousand. So that's where the figure comes. You're seven times more likely to be killed on a farm than you are on a building site.
Mick Ord (Host): Scary stuff. Brian.
Safe driver. That's the second bit of the HSE campaign. And that's your particular area? That's your specialty. You've mentioned handbrakes. What other stuff are high on your list?
Brian Rees: Well, yeah, the big thing is, training is a biggie and they say, well, you would say that because that's what you do. But I am so convinced that training and the safe stop whenever you stop the machine, as Adrian said, the machine has got to be maintained properly.
But it's handbrake on, out of gear, key off, and out. If you look at people whenever you pull up in your car, you do safe stop religiously every time because the large majority of people were trained to drive a car when they were 17, and it's always stayed with them. But for some strange reason, when those very same people get out of their car and sit on a tractor or combine, whatever it might be, or telehandler, that safe stop goes out of the window. And I don't know why.
And training is a really big one for that, to make them safe. If the machine isn't moving, it's not going to crash anybody and putting everything in neutral. No one's ever been injured in a PTO shaft when the tractor engine is stopped. It's never happened. So if, if you're doing anything to a machine, that engine has got to be stopped before you go anywhere near the machine.
Mick Ord (Host): Adrian, this campaign, we're particularly aiming at younger farmers and farm workers, aren't we, from the age of 18 to say 44. Why are you particularly concerned about people that age or people that might be new to farming?
Adrian Hodkinson: Well, we're concerned about everybody who's, uh, working on farmers and we, we really want to work with all the different stakeholders to make sure that we're helping people live long and healthy lives.
This campaign has really been quite orientated towards social media and towards some of the, um, electronic means of communication. So we've been sending out , a lot of messages and a lot of information and films and things like that, which we know younger farmers will pick upon, perhaps more than the older farmers.
Older farmers are still really, really important. In fact, a huge amount of older farmers suffer awful injuries and are killed. But if we get people younger, as Brian says, if we're educating people and training people earlier, the messages tend to stick a little bit more.
It's a bit like, um, young children and, and grandparents. If you can get the younger people talking to the, the grandfather or the grandmother about, why are you doing it like that? I have not seen it being done like that for years. It gets, granddad gets granny thinking about it and maybe changing their ways if the younger person is saying it.
The campaigns for everyone. We're concentrating on safe farm, safe drivers, safe vehicle. It's just that we're using social media and electronic means of communication and we just know that younger people are more likely to see that. Simple as that.
Mick Ord (Host): Brian, from your experience, would you be able to sort of explain a differentiation between the various age groups? Because as Adrian has said, we are targeting younger and newer additions to the farming industry, as well as older. It's everybody. And you mentioned before how in some of the farms that you visit, the culture of safety isn't quite ingrained.
Brian Rees: No, it's the culture that we want to try and instil into the, the movement a bit.
You know, I've got two sons. One has basically worked most of his life in construction, and my other younger son is basically farming. Both went to college, but my eldest son in construction, he wouldn't ever dream of jumping out of a machine forwards. He always uses handles. And I think that's one thing where agricultural lack a little bit and where say, construction are safer, they do get supervised more. And there's someone keeping an eye on them. For instance, now in construction, you know, it's now the green light on the top of all their machines. And um, I passed , a site the other day and I could only see about half the green lights on. So it meant half those people didn't have their seatbelt on because that's what the green light tells you.
Well, a farmer wouldn't dream of thinking about anything like that and very often the telehandler they buy wouldn't be up to construction specs or they probably didn't have a green light. So, it's that type of thing. What we want to instil in people, this training element.
I was in America about three years ago, touring round California. We were looking at farms and different things, and we went to Sacramento and we had an hour with the, the local environmental minister. I mentioned safety to her and she said, "oh, it's not a problem here." and when I told her our figure, she couldn't believe it .Anyway during the week then we went to a few farms and the standard was really good. Anyway, I asked one of the farmers one day, what training do you do? He said, oh, they've all got their tickets in their machine, he said, but every month everybody on the farm has a one day health and safety course. One week, it may be machinery. The next month it may be CAT handling, the next month it may be medicine, so on and so on. And he said they have a touchscreen test at the end of each course and they've got to pass that before they can go back to work. And I said, God, that's amazing. He said, well, we wouldn't be able to insure the farm if we didn't do that in this state. It happens in this country with factories because uh, back in the nineties I was in factories more than I was on farms and they were doing it then because they could do their training and they could get half my feedback off the insurance company on the employee liability insurance. But I'm afraid that the agricultural insurers in this country don't want to know. I've been campaigning that one now for quite a while. So, I think there could something come in from that way to instil that culture into the industry if we could.
Mick Ord (Host): Is that something that you would be able to comment on Adrian?
Adrian Hodkinson: Training's so, so important. I mean, the major insurers in farming, like NFU Mutual and AXXA and some of the other ones are always looking to, uh, improve the risk management on farms and training is part of that risk management. Brian mentioned safe stop. It's really, really important part of this campaign, making sure that people are stopping things properly. Got the handbrake on, take the key out, stopping everything before you go around the back to try and adjust something, or before you attempted to stick your hand into something to try and pull something out. So many people have lost arms or had really awful injuries that have stopped them farming because they just haven't turned things off.
And that's part of the training. It's part of making sure that, um, when you're operating machinery, that you stay inside the cab because that cab protects you should the tractor or whatever machine it is, roll over into the ditch. That cab stops you falling out and getting squashed by the tractor or by the machine.
And it's so important to have that seatbelt on that Brian's mentioned and uh, Brian's right in construction the flashing green light on the top that shows the seatbelts being worn. I'd love to see that sort of thing in agriculture that shows that you're wearing the seatbelt and that you're going to stay inside that safety cab., because that's what it is. It's a safety cab, so that's all part of safe driver. And I think safe vehicle is part of that. Machines regularly maintained that you've got the safety features working properly. That you've got the, um, mirrors clean and not broken, that you can see where you're going and that you're wearing that seatbelt and, uh, it's keeping you in that safety cab.
Mick Ord (Host): Brian, I can see you're nodding your head vigorously.
Brian Rees: Just one thing on leading on to the vehicle thing now, as you might appreciate, it's about 10 years now since, there was an addition come into telehandlers. They've always had a warning light to tell you when they were becoming unstable. But about 10 years ago, 2012, I think it came in that they locked the hydraulics. When the track is potentially becoming unstable, it locks the hydraulics off. So the only thing you can do is retract the boom. Now, when this first came in, there was quite a lot of dissatisfaction, if you could say from the industry, because we were doing the SHAD events then, and we used to get a bit of flack back off farmers and the answer we had for them: if you don't overload your machine, you are never going to have a problem. And that seems to satisfy them now. And people have accepted that now, that if they want to do a three-ton job, they've got to buy a three ton machine. They don't buy a two and a half ton machine and try and make that do it. So making people buy things that are fit for purpose is crucial.
But when you talk about safety devices, we had that one 10, 12 years ago, and I think I'm right in thinking that some of the telehandler accidents over the last, now three or four years, have reduced slightly. And I'm just wondering, those machines are all coming through the system now, aren't they? Now about five years ago it came in that if you get off the seat in a tractor now the PTO automatically stops unless you keep it going for some reason. So it'll be really interesting to see now in the next two or three years whether the entanglement, accidents start to reduce a bit because those tractors are now coming through the system.
They've had that in horticulture for years. When you got up off the seat, they even stopped the machines. This only stops the PTO, but that is the one that kills people, naturally.
Mick Ord (Host): Adrian in terms of ensuring safer vehicles. I guess now that spring's here, it's as good a time as any to ensure that all the farm vehicles are fully maintained and working particularly after the fairly long and cold winter we've just had.
Adrian Hodkinson: Yeah, I mean, uh, farm vehicles have a, have a tough life. They need to be regularly maintained. They need to be properly checked, and they need to be working in decent condition. The obvious things I look for, I, I make sure that, um, farmers have got the windows clean on the cabs that the mirrors are in, are clean and, uh, aren't broken and they're actually fitted. Sometimes it's not even there. So how can you hope of, of keeping anybody safe around you if you can't see anything around the machine whatsoever. And, um, it's so important to make sure things like the brakes are working properly. We get a lot of incidents with quad bikes. Quad bikes rolling over and, uh, training's really important to make sure that you know how to stop a quad bike from rolling over, and obviously wearing a helmet reduces the risk of you getting a brain injury should the quad bike roll over.
What I'm mentioning quads about is it's important to maintain them as well because they get used for everything. They don't get looked after particularly well. The brakes don't get checked, the tire pressures don't get checked, and they rely on quite low tire pressures. And if you've got the wrong tire pressure in one wheel, it really makes the machine unstable. And we've seen so many times where one of these has gone over and squashed somebody, and that person can't get out from underneath it, and they die! Because they haven't been trained, they're not wearing a helmet and they've not maintained their quad bike and so, so sad that we're still seeing that.
One example I can think of, he was a work experience trainee and he, he suffered head injuries, awful head injuries after coming off his quad. He wasn't wearing any head protection and he hadn't been given any training. We prosecuted the farming business and they got a pretty hefty fine. I often hear that there isn't a law about helmets on quads in agriculture. That's nonsense. Everybody using a farm quad bike should be wearing head protection of some sort, whether it's a proper quad helmet or whether it's even a riding helmet, motorcycle helmet. Just make sure you are wearing a helmet whenever you're driving one of these things. So, so important.
Mick Ord (Host): I guess you echo all that, Brian. Yeah?
Brian Rees: I would agree with that. We used to use one on the SHAD events years ago. There was one year when 12 people got killed on a quad and the HSE did a bit more research into it and they got all the coroner's reports back from the 12 fatal accidents, and it worked out that if those 12 people had been wearing helmets, 10 of them would still be alive. We keep telling people it's the law to wear a helmet. And I think everybody knows , who uses a quad. They all know they should be wearing an helmet, but for some reason they can't be bothered. So, I, I tell that tale quite often. About 10 out of the 12 would've still been alive. And you can tell people, start to think a little bit then. Just a little bit, you know.
Mick Ord (Host): Well, I mean, let, let's face it, that's the whole point of the campaign, isn't it? I read a powerful line on the WorkRight Agriculture website that for me, kind of encapsulates what the campaign is all about. Let me read it to you:
"Take a moment to think about what would happen to you and your family if you were seriously injured and unable to work.".
And that kind of says it all, doesn't it?
Brian Rees: It does. It really does. Because people think it's never going to happen to us. And I've heard that so many times.
Adrian Hodkinson: Brian, you're so right. It's not just yourself that's going to get hurt. If you, for whatever reason, can't work, how's the family going to cope? Your whole world is thrown upside down. It means you're going to have to get help from friends, from colleagues. You're going to have to work out different ways of farming, and it might really affect your livelihood.
It might actually stop you from farming. And that's so, so sad. And, um, these instances are so, so preventable. And usually by something really simple. So concentrate on safe farm, safe driver, safe vehicle. Things where you can really make a difference. And stop those really awful incidents from happening that are either going to affect you, going to have a massive impact on the family, going to have a massive impact on the local community as well.
Bottom line is it could stop you farming. It's going to cost you that much.
Mick Ord (Host): Many thanks to Adrian Hodgkinson, the head of HSE'S Agriculture Sector for joining us today and to farmer and safety instructor, Brian Rees. Thanks to you too for listening to this podcast. I hope it's encouraged you to think some more about safety on your farm and maybe act to make sure that it's a safe place to work for you, your family, and your workers.
There are some really useful tips and checks on the website and some short and practical videos on farm safety. Just google "WorkRight Agriculture" and it'll take you to the campaign page. Or log on to workright.campaign.gov.uk, and both links of course will be included in our episode notes.
So until next time, this is Mick Ord signing off on this HSE podcast.
Have a safe and prosperous year.