Accidents on the farm can result in tragedy for the families who run them. They’re a potential nightmare scenario, keeping many a farmer up at night.

And not only that, accidents can have a critical impact on your business operations, your profits. Small farms with limited staff may struggle to function if even one staff member has to take some time off after an accident. It could also lead to an increase in your insurance premium.

NFU Mutual health and safety consultant Hannah Dodds tells agricultural journalist Caroline Stocks where the biggest safety risks lie for smaller farms, and the steps all workers can take to limit them.

1. Being hit by vehicles

Transport-related accidents are one of the biggest causes of injuries and fatalities in agriculture, with almost a third of all agricultural fatalities over the past decade (98) caused by vehicles.

Many accidents arise from people in the farmyard not being visible to drivers, so having designated walkways, wearing high-visibility jackets and having audible alarms on reversing machinery are all simple ways to help keep people safe, says Hannah.

“Often small farms won’t have a farm office for visitors to report to, so having a sign at the entrance which tells them where to park, to stay with their vehicle, and who to call for assistance can keep them in a safe place,” she adds. “Similarly setting speed limits and introducing one-way systems, where the site lends itself to it, will help limit risk.”

2. Falling from height

Falls from height were responsible for 47 deaths (14% of all agricultural fatalities) over the past 10 years, with most injuries caused by people falling through roofs or off ladders.

Even if it’s a job you’ve done previously without incident, taking the time to stop, think and plan is vital, says Hannah. “Budgets can be tight on small farms so paying for outside help often isn’t possible, but having the right equipment in the first place is key.”

As well as elevated work platforms which can safely lift people to where they need to work, safety equipment like inflatable air cushions are available to hire for fairly small sums.

“Even basic awareness of ladder safety will help,” Hannah adds. “Make sure you have the right ladder for the job, that it’s maintained, properly secured and that you have someone working with you.”

3. Machinery

The Safe Stop procedure of handbrake on, controls in neutral, engine off and key out should be the first step for anyone doing maintenance work on machinery. However, the number of machinery-related accidents each year show people still aren’t taking care, says Hannah.

Making sure guards are in place, machinery is properly maintained and providing training to staff so they know how to use equipment efficiently and safely are also key to helping limit accidents.

“Tight budgets mean that often machinery can be left to run down, but it’s important to do the checks to make sure everything’s running safely,” she adds.

4. Powerlines

If you have electricity cables crossing your land, mapping their location and making sure staff or contract workers know where they are is the first step to keeping safe, says Hannah.

“Find out the maximum reach of your machinery so you know where you need to steer clear, and make sure everyone has the energy company’s number saved in their phones so they know who to call in an emergency,” she adds.

If you are hit, and are unable to drive clear, then stay in the cab if you can, call the emergency number for your network provider (or dial 105) and give them your location - having details of postcodes or pole numbers of the fields will help. If you need to get out, jump well clear so that no contact is made between you, the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Once clear, keep everyone away.

5. Lone working

Working alone is often unavoidable on a small farm, but it brings one of the biggest risks.

“Getting the help you need can be a challenge if you haven’t put simple precautions in place,” says Hannah.

“There are certain jobs like treating cattle, working at height or using a chainsaw which shouldn’t be tackled alone. If you do have to do a job by yourself, tell someone what you’re doing, where you’re going and what time you plan to come back so that they know where to look for you if an accident does happen.”

A working, charged mobile phone can be a life-saver, so consider changing your network provider if you can’t get signal on your farm, she adds. Lone worker devices, which trigger an alert in the event of an accident, are also available.

“If you do have an accident, an alternative and sometimes better emergency number to call from your mobile phone is 112, as it makes use of all of the networks in the area.”

  • Find out more about Farm Essentials: insurance for farms under 50 hectares