A RURAL risk expert is urging farmers not to “rest on their laurels” after official figures revealed a drop in the number of fatalities in the agricultural industry.

New figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that 21 people were killed in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector across Britain in 2019/20 – 18 less than last year and the lowest number of deaths recorded in last five years.

Despite the drop in fatalities, agriculture is still one of the riskiest industry to work in, with it reporting the highest fatal injury rate – around 18 times higher than the all industry rate.

There were two deaths in agriculture, forestry and fishing reported in Yorkshire and Humber in 2019/20 – down from four deaths in the previous year.

A 27-year-old self-employed forestry worker was killed when he was struck by a falling branch. He was felling trees with a chainsaw and dislodged a branch from another tree. He died in hospital from serious head injuries.

A 32-year-old farm worker was killed while operating a seed drill. He was using a tractor to pull the machine when he was struck and dragged along by the seed drill. He died from multiple injuries.

Simon Houghton, of Lycetts Risk Management Services, said: “There have been great strides with regards to health and safety over recent decades, with the number of fatal injuries to workers in agriculture falling by around half since the early 1980s – but we still have a way to go.

“The efforts of farmers to raise the bar in terms of health and safety should certainly be applauded, but there is always a danger that when progress is made, vigilance is relaxed – now is not the time to rest on one’s laurels.

“Agriculture’s high fatality rate still significantly outstrips that of other industries so managing risk better should be a top priority for all farming businesses – no matter the scale or size.

“Health and safety fines remain high and we have seen farmers having to fork out hundreds of thousands of pounds for breaches in the past year. We know that time and resources can be scarce for farmers but cutting corners is simply not worth the potential economic hit.”

Simon said that the latest HSE report highlights a certain profile of worker being at a higher risk of fatal injury and warned that older, lone farmers must exercise particular caution.

Last year, workers aged 55 and older accounted for half of all fatal injuries – ten out of 20 worker deaths – and almost twice as many self-employed people have been killed as employed workers.

Simon added: “Unwise risk-taking is an underlying problem in the agricultural industry, and the most vulnerable are hit the hardest. The fatal injury rate for over 65s was nearly six times that of young workers and we know that many of these farmers work alone. Many farmers are working well past their retirement age, with little to no help, so physically, and cognitively, they are put under a lot of strain.

“These factors mean they may not appropriately assess or mitigate risks. Sadly, some of these deaths are a result of freak accidents, but others are preventable.

“By implementing health and safety policies, carrying out robust risk assessments and undertaking health and safety training, farmers can ensure good practice is an integral part of their business, creating a safer environment for them, their workers, and the wider community – as well as helping protect the future of their business.

“Death and injury can have a devastating impact on family and friends, so the value of doing so is immeasurable.”

For information on keeping your farm safe, visit www.hse.gov.uk/agriculture