About health and safety in agriculture

In the last ten years, almost one person a week has been killed as a direct result of agricultural work. Many more have been seriously injured or made ill by their work.

People have a right to return home from work safe and sound. Good farmers and employers recognise the benefits of reducing incidents and ill health among their workers, and are aware of the financial and other reasons to aim for and maintain good standards of health and safety.

Health and safety is a fundamental requirement of a sustainable farming business and should be regarded as an essential part of farm business management. Unwise risk-taking is an underlying problem in the industry and those working on their own are especially vulnerable.

The personal costs of injury and ill health can be devastating. Life is never the same again for family members left behind after a work-related death, or for those looking after someone with a long-term illness or serious injury caused by their work.

Managing risks in a sensible way protects you, your family, your workers and your business and can bring the following benefits:

Injuries and ill health in agriculture

Farming is a hazardous industry. Farmers and farm workers work with potentially dangerous machinery, vehicles, chemicals, livestock, at height or near pits and silos. They are exposed to the effects of bad weather, noise and dust. The risks also include family members working at the farm and children living at the farm.

Agricultural work can also be physically demanding and the repetitive nature of the work causes a range of health problems, including severe back pain.

With high numbers and rates of fatal injury, agriculture, forestry and fishing is the riskiest industry sector. Just over one in a hundred workers (employees and the self-employed) work in agriculture, but it accounts for about one in five fatal injuries to workers. Further information on numbers and rates of injury and ill health in agriculture can be found at:

The costs and causes of death and injury

The total annual cost of injuries (in farming, forestry and horticulture) to society is estimated at £190 million (1) and around two-thirds of that is due to reportable injuries (£130 million), with fatalities accounting for around another third (£55 million).

The most common causes of death are:

There are many more injuries which do not result in death. Less than half of reportable injuries to workers across all industry sectors are reported each year, but the level for agriculture, forestry and fishing is much lower. Surveys suggest that of those injuries to workers in agriculture (the most serious) which should be reported by law, only 16% are actually reported. HSE estimates that there could be as many as 10 000 unreported injuries in the industry each year. Each one involves costs to the injured person and to the business.

The most common causes of non-fatal injuries are:

People working in the industry can also be permanently disabled by ill health. Breathing in dusts, handling loads, being exposed to noise or vibration, using chemicals and working with animals can all cause ill health, with symptoms that can take years to develop. In some cases this can result in premature death.

Many of those in the industry do not consult their doctor unless seriously ill and so levels of ill health are unclear. However, in agriculture:

Workers may be exposed to extreme heat, cold, high humidity and radiation from direct and prolonged exposure to the sun (all of which imposes stress on the worker). They may also be exposed to excessive vibration, noise, or may have to work in uncomfortable positions for long periods and handle a wide range of chemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides.

1. Source: Costs to Britain of workplace injuries and work-related ill health: 2010/11 update HSE 2010. Back