Wednesday, April 24, 2019

No hiding importance of farm safety

April 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Fen Tiger

Farm safety inspectors are often seen as jobsworths – but they have a human side too, says Fen Tiger.

It’s a dangerous game, this farming business. There are barely enough hours in the day to get all the jobs done – let alone time to ensure machinery is properly maintained and safe to operate.

Or so it seems on many farms. Despite all the warnings, safety seldom gets the attention it deserves – particularly in one-man-band businesses. All too often it is seen as unproductive and does not swell the bank balance – even though it could save your life.

Agriculture employs just 1-2 % of the British workforce. But the sector accounts for 20% of reported work-related fatalities. And many of those accidents happen at busy times when the pressure is on to get the job done.

A rugby friend of mine once rushed to fetch the beet cleaner from another field after having problems with loose dirt. He put his foot where it should not have been and broke it. Had the pick-up hitch locked, he could have lost his foot.

Why did this happen? Because of pressure and time. As farmers, we are under financial pressure too – often working long hours alone to make ends meet. Sometimes with high powered machines. It can be a constant strain and mistakes happen.

Inspections

Several health and safety inspections have taken place near here in recent months. It seems neighbours have been given warning of the impending visits and have therefore been prepared. Is it correct to be forewarned of any forthcoming inspection?

I am not sure. It allows farmers to get all paperwork and machines in order but I don’t think it really helps anyone. It might be good for the farmer in question who can put things right before they are spotted by officials – but is it right for the industry? I don’t think it is.

Take crop assurance inspections. They are not a matter of life and death but they are a good example of what happens when inspections are conducted at the farmers’ convenience, rather than being unannounced.

The crop assurance inspector usually comes when the grower arranges the visit. Paperwork is updated to reflect the cleaning of grain stores and trailers; spray records are presented correctly; and water rates, active ingredients and weather conditions are all properly recorded.

Clean machines

Of course, every farm always cleans every machine, don’t they? Spray records always reflect crop protection products applied in near perfect conditions. And everyone uses the correct chemicals with the appropriate mixing partner with the correct water volumes.

Basically, what I am saying is that records are there to be inspected whether they are correct or not. The chemical store is always spotless. Has anybody moved those outdated chemicals to number two store and then back again? No, me neither.

So what is to stop those old, unsafe – in the eyes of the inspector – machines that do a wonderful job from being moved to a shed down the road until a health and safety inspection is over?

True, many farmers find it hard to run a farm business while abiding by all the restrictions. And I accept that is can be hard to service grease nipples covered with a plastic safety guard. It is similarly difficult to replace delicate spray tips while wearing oversize rubber gloves.

Risky business

I expect too that some farmers fail on the paperwork alone. It’s important to identify all risks. You have to show willing and understand the implications of your actions too. It’s not an obvious side of farming to tackle and often takes a back seat. But it is still important.

A good health and safety inspector is there to help. Farmers do not get everything correct all the time – and a good inspector will help an honest farmer better understand and comply with health and safety requirements rather than throw the book at the first opportunity.

Many years ago, we were visited by a fresh-faced inspector. He had an agricultural background but mostly with the livestock sector. Our old six-row sugar beet harvester stood in the yard and the power take-off guards had some extra holes in them for maintenance reasons.

The inspector ticked me off and explained the exact length and purpose of each particular guard. It was an interesting talk but after the technical lecture he asked about the machine, how it worked, what it actually did and how it performed.

I explained and asked if he would like to grease those covered-up grease nipples – showing the difficulty we face when trying to maintain equipment. He left on good terms. An open approach and talking is better than hiding machines in a far corner of the farm.

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