Agriculture: the Killing Fields
Sheila Pantry, OBE
The rapid development of mechanisation in agriculture - and in particular the use of the tractor resulted in terrible accidents suffered by farmers and their employees. For example, during one four year period no less than 147 people were killed as the result of overturning tractors and one of the major priorities for additional legislation was the introduction of safety cabs.
Since then, the number of accidents has declined to a situation where 1995 became the first year that no such deaths were recorded. Other milestones have been the use of the media to campaign vigorously to reduce the number of child deaths in farming. Publicity campaigns are still mounted by the HSE because on average one person still dies at work in agriculture every week in the UK.
With the continuous need for further publicity, campaigns and the introduction of European Directives on risk assessment and better health and safety management in the agricultural industry will require all managers and workers to be constantly aware of the dangers of farming and keep a constant watch on the revision of, and introduction of legislation.
Proposals for a revised Code of Practice Pesticides: Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Pesticides on Farms and Holdings often known as the Green Code, have recently been published jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and the Health and Safety Commission. The proposals update the existing Code, published in 1990, with revision taking into account changes in pesticide legislation and to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations. These arise mainly from the introduction of new regulations to accommodate European requirements for plant protection products (agricultural pesticides), as well as updating the technical content of the Code.
The revised Code seeks to maintain in one user friendly publication, code and guidance material on the specific requirements for the safe use of pesticides and plant protection products, together with the more general requirements for the use of substances hazardous to health at work.
Changes in pesticide legislation include the introduction of the Control of Pesticides (Amendment) Regulations (COP(A)R), the Plant Protection Products Regulations, 1995 (PPPR) and the Plant Protection Products (Basic Conditions) Regulations (PPP(BC)R which are expected to come into force in early 1997.
A Labour Force Survey estimated that there are 57,000 cases of ill health in farming, fishing and forestry that are caused or made worse by work.
Statistics show that:
- musculosketetal conditions i.e. pain in upper limbs are twice as
high as the average for all occupations and pain in the lower limbs
is four times as high;
- respiratory disease and back disorders are also twice as high;
- manual handling accounts for 16 percent of all accidents reported
in agriculture 80 percent of farmers have bad backs, arthritis or
- there were 251 incidents involving the use of chemicals in
- stress - a high suicide rate of 177 between 1989-1992, which is one and half times the expected rate and the sixth highest of any group.
Proper training therefore is absolutely necessary for those entering the industry and the HSE recently launched its first Health Training Manual The Good Health Pack for use by lecturers in agricultural colleges and universities - other agricultural workers will benefit from reading this manual. The main aim of the guide is to provide information on the various occupational health risks and the problems that can occur when working in agriculture together with an indication of how to seek solutions. Areas covered include: chest problems, infections, mental health, back and muscle pain, skin problems, vibration and noise.
More information can be found in the various computerised services such as OSH-ROM compact disc containing bibliographic databases - HSELINE from the HSE Information Services, NIOSHTICS from the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and CISDOC from the International Labour Office Health and Safety Information Centre.
OSH-ROM is available from SilverPlatter Information Services. These databases, which are constantly updated, give thousands of references to health and safety information, including legislation, and a wealth of information for the agricultural industry. Another CD-ROM called OSH-CD contains the full text of the HSC and HSE documents referred to in this article.
Accidents and ill health cost businesses between L4.5 and L9.9 billion. This works out at between L170 and L360 for each person employed. It pays to be health and safety conscious; what are you doing about it?
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