BURDENING farmers with onerous compliance regulations is not the way to improving farm safety according to an English Nuffield Scholar who travelled internationally studying the topic of safety in agriculture.
James Chapman said upon investigating attitudes to farm safety across the globe he felt the best way to improve safety was through farmer to farmer learning.
“The problem with regulating for safety will always be we can’t make a farmer do something they don’t want to do, and paper work is definitely one of them,” Mr Chapman, who has a particular interest in the topic after losing his left arm in a farm accident, said.
“Many of the laws covering health and safety in various countries across the globe are to protect workers from life changing accidents which is a good thing, but what I found around the world was the fact that more legislation doesn’t make farmers any safer, in fact I would say it can have a negative effect on the attitude towards safety.”
Instead, he said changing overall culture in agriculture towards safety on-farm was the way forward.
“The most important, and most difficult, task is changing attitudes towards farm safety to make it a priority,” Mr Chapman, who farms in the county of Warwickshire in central England, said.
“Changing the culture of the industry is the one thing that will make a difference, but it’s the hardest thing to achieve,” Mr Chapman said.
He said the wheel was slowly turning.
“Here in the United Kingdom we are starting to see a shift in farmers’ attitude to safety, I’m getting more and more invites to speak on the subject which five years ago would be unheard of,” he said.
“The shift has come about due to some influential farmers using social media to say enough is enough.
“This push, combined with the help of a few charities and farming unions pushing consistent messages and giving those farmers who are backing farm safety we are now seeing a change and safety is becoming sexy!”
He said an ongoing macho culture had encouraged excessive risk taking in the past.
“We often like to think of ourselves as being a tough breed, constantly working in extreme conditions, long hours and little pay. “We love that people think more of us for ‘putting our life on the line to feed the world’ and that attitude may lead to compromising on safety.”
He said he was looking to investigate whether accident levels among female farmers were lower, but said there was little available data on the topic.
Mr Chapman said while good in theory a zero tolerance approach to accidents would not necessarily work in reducing incidents.
“The zero tolerance approach would be great in an ideal world, but we don’t live in an ideal world.
“Farming will always involve a level of danger and to an extent small accidents will always happen, some say that’s the only way humans learn.”
However, he urged farmers to make a log of accidents or incidents.
“Making a note of any accident or near miss is a great way of analysing and identifying hazards to then help reduce future problems.“
In terms of where to focus attention on farm safety, Mr Chapman said it was a balancing act.
“I’ve always focused on major accidents but that’s because I can use my obvious lack of left arm to push that message, however overall I think the message needs to be that it is important to look after ourselves - not to avoid prosecution, or to satisfy our insurance company, simply because life is precious.”
Moving forward, he said he was interested to see how new farming methods, such as technological advances, would improve farm safety.
“As for technology I’m not sure if it will help or not,” he said.
“Obviously the less human interaction there is then the less chance there is of getting injured, but as we have already seen, mechanisation has meant less people on the ground meaning more lone working which results in more chance of something going wrong and less chance of surviving when it does.”
“Health and safety professionals will always try to engineer the danger away but sometimes uneducated people can make operating the machine in the real world impossible, resulting in farmers removing the safety mechanism to improve productivity, so any intervention needs to be practical and well thought out.”