Lessons still to be learnt for farmers in Lincolnshire

Potatoes. EMN-180102-152701001
Potatoes. EMN-180102-152701001

Inspections carried out on Lincolnshire farms during the potato harvest have presented some positive results, but there are still areas for improvement.

Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited farms across Lincolnshire during the recent potato harvest to ensure farmers and workers were doing the job safely during this busy period.

On their visits, the key risks HSE inspectors looked out for were:

• Machinery

• Falls

• Safe stop

• Transport

Inspectors were pleased to find many farms had carried out maintenance on machinery before the season started – making sure equipment was ready to go and not likely to break down during the harvest.

By taking these steps, farmers made sure workers weren’t going to get entangled with the moving parts of machines during repairs or when clearing blockages – some of the most common causes of death and serious injury on Britain’s farms.

Looking at the risk of falls from height, it was positive to see many farms had reduced, and in some cases even eliminated, the need to work at height by doing simple things like sampling and levelling potato boxes at ground level. Inspectors also saw many farmers use the right equipment for working at height, such as tower scaffolds or purpose-built access platforms.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case across all of the farms visited and there were instances when inspectors had to take action to stop unsafe work at height, showing more still needs to be done to address risk in this area.

On their visits, HSE inspectors asked farmers and their workers about ‘safe stop’ during potato harvesting.

The simple and quick action of turning the engine off and putting the handbrake on saves lives, so it was encouraging to hear the majority of farmers visited are aware of these steps before they do any work on or around machinery.

The inspectors found that when it comes to transport, already many farms are doing the right things to effectively manage vehicle movements and to ensure people aren’t run over by moving vehicles.

That said, inspectors did find that there were still too many farms where drivers weren’t wearing their seatbelts.

Everyone knows seatbelts save lives, and that the law says they must be worn by all; and this is no different on farms making it critical for farm workers, and the employing farmers, to address this issue immediately.

While HSE inspectors were impressed with how things are improving on Britain’s farms, it is clear that there are still lessons to learn and improvements that must be made.

This is important to remember when we consider there were five incidents on farms reported to HSE over the potato harvest period.

One of the incidents was sadly fatal – a worker was killed after he fell whilst working at height.

Other incidents include a worker getting tangled up with machinery and another involved a harvester.

We believe the true picture to be much worse as we know there is significant under-reporting by farmers.

On a positive front, it looks like farmers, and those working on farms, are realising that we all have a duty to protect workers and many are now taking the right steps towards better safety.

Increasingly those on farms are thinking about safety first so the awareness and knowledge is there, it’s now just about acting on it.

On visits, the inspectors were particularly impressed with farms that:

• Segregated pedestrians from vehicles

• Placed potato boxes stored on floor level for sampling

• Actively worked to make sure workers didn’t contact overhead power lines

• Ensured good advice and information was readily-accessible for workers

• Knew how to manage the asbestos on their farms.

On the best performing farms, HSE inspectors found workers were being given good instructions to help them work safely i.e. through toolbox talks at the start of the season to make sure they all were clear on what is expected of them. It was also impressive to see that on many farms work at height was either totally eliminated or tightly-controlled.

Britain’s farms have come a long way but there is still a long way to go – one death is a death too many.

We all have a responsibility for workplace health and safety and a part to play in helping Great Britain work well.