Farm Safety Week 2016 - Day 1: Falls

4 July 2016

Today is the first day of Farm Safety Weekthe background of which was recently outlined in a RIG News item.  Throughout this week themed case studies and advice are being placed online each day and RIG members are urged to use these very personal and poignant stories to raise awareness in their workplaces, or pass them on to clients and through their networks, etc.

The first day’s theme is ‘Falls’ – the second highest cause of fatal accidents on farms in the UK. 

Even the most safety conscious farmers can experience the effects of a serious injury as we learned from Norfolk farmer Tim Papworth. Tim was carrying out a simple operation – changing a light bulb in a potato store – but one slip had life changing consequences.  He fell from a ladder and suffered a serious head injury, being taken by air ambulance to the specialist trauma unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, where he spent five weeks in a drug-induced coma.

As is often the case, this accident happened during a busy time on Tim’s farm.  Potatoes were being moved into a new store and one of the light bulbs had failed. Tim explained: “I can remember getting the bulb from my car and going up the ladder, but that’s as much as I can remember until I woke up at Addenbrooke’s”.

“I couldn’t speak and I was paralysed on the left side of my body. I couldn’t do anything for myself. The only way I could communicate was by writing notes on bits of paper.

“Thanks to the marvellous work of the air ambulance and the team at Addenbrooke’s I knew I was going to survive but I was concerned about how I would function in the future and the effect it would all have on my wife Emma, our children and the family business. How to keep the business running and earn the money to look after my family worried me no end.”

Tim’s accident happened five years ago and thankfully he has made a full recovery, apart from impaired hearing in his left ear.  Tim added, “I want to highlight the impact an accident like this can have on your family and your business. We’re much more conscious of safety all the while on the farm now and it’s made me slow down and think about every process.”

This case reinforces that fact that farm workers of any age run the risk of injury or death from falls. Falls are one of the most common farm accidents, accounting for 23 fatal accidents in the last 5 years.

As Coordinator of the Farm Safety Foundation’s Farm Safety Week initiative Stephanie Berkeley says: “It is human nature to think ‘it won't happen to me,’ but unfortunately it can, especially if we continue on with this approach.” 

“Taking preventative, proactive measures is one of the best things we can do for our farms and workers. Most preventative practices are common sense. Tragically, most accidents are caused by simple factors such as habit, haste, fatigue, and improperly maintained machinery. This week, we hope that by hearing from other farmers about their experiences, we can ask farmers to really think about ‘Who Would Fill Your Boots?’ if something were to happen to them at work, shed some light on the necessity of farm safety and highlight practical ways to make it happen on the farm.”

As well as posting a new article each day on RIG’s News page, IOSH will be covering the Week extensively. You can follow developments on Twitter, using #FarmSafetyWeek - Please ‘retweet’ to maximise exposure.

Useful guidance on safe working at height and avoiding falls on farms

For those of you who usually only refer to HSE’s (albeit excellent) guidance and might be looking for a new ‘angle’, then you might like to have a look at some of the other (equally excellent!) information, case studies and films on other websites, eg:

RIG has previously reported a number of incidents and prosecutions involving unsafe working at height, eg See last year’s Farm Safety Week feature on falls .

Construction on farms

This also highlighted installation of solar panels on farm buildings as an aspect needing closer attention.  There have since been further incidents and prosecutions related to this activity.  For example the solar panel installation company fined after a worker fell through a roof-light on a barn in Scotland [See HSE Press Release 31 August 2015].  Farmers should be encouraged to intervene if they see unsafe practice - “If it looks unsafe, then it probably is!” 

CITB have produced a useful information sheet “Solar panel installation - What you need to know to work safely”, in partnership with Construction Skills and HSE (GB).

In another case involving construction on a farm, a company erecting a steel framed building in Lincs was prosecuted (Sept 2015) after 2 workers fell 3m from a man riding basket on a telehandler, when the attachment failed - both suffered broken bones and internal injuries. In this case HSE highlighted the following failings:

  • the ‘basket’ wasn’t secured correctly to the forks;
  • The work was not properly planned, appropriately supervised, or carried out in a safe manner;
  • the telehandler (with a removable basket) was not suitable for this type of high risk work, and the telehandler was also being used to lift materials which required the man riding basket to be removed and replaced frequently, increasing the risk.

You can also help to spread the word by reminding farmers of the useful recent article “The Safe Way to Work at Height” published in Farmers Weekly (3 June 2016, p54) and their supplementary on-line guidance Working at height: All you need to know about man-cages” available to subscribers via FW interactive’ (31 May 2016).

Take a look at our 'Top Tips - Falls' advice guide.

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