Deeply disturbing

Call for action as agricultural deaths show steep increase

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Agriculture has long been considered the most dangerous sector in the UK, with fatality rates 18 times the national average.

However analysis of workplace agricultural deaths by Unite has shown a steep increase in fatalities.

Last year (2019/20) there were a total of 20 deaths in the agricultural sector, but according to the Health and Safety Executive’s fatality list for 2020/21, by the third week of February there had already been 33 deaths. An increase of 61 per cent.

Tragically, there are likely to have been further deaths before the end of the reporting year on 1 April 2021.

“The increase of agricultural deaths is deeply disturbing and must not be ignored,” said Unite’s national officer for agriculture, Bev Clarkson.

“One death is one too many and the mindset that death and serious injury is an occupational hazard in agriculture must be entirely eradicated,” she added.

On the eve of International Workers’ Memorial Day (Wednesday 28 April) Unite is calling for the government, the HSE and agricultural employers to take urgent action to improve safety.

The highest causes of deaths were contact with cattle (11 deaths including five members of the general public) and deaths involving vehicles (10 deaths).

Unite believes that in order to improve safety there needs to be an increase in inspections, enforcement activity and prosecutions by the HSE. Unite also believes that a system of accredited roving safety reps needs to be created to improve safety.

“The high number of fatalities demonstrates that far too many employers are willing to cut corners or ignore safety rules, which leads to tragic consequences” said Clarkson.

“In order to ensure that the entire agricultural sector improves its safety record there needs to be a steep increase in inspections, enforcement activity and prosecutions,” she added.

Given the considerable number of deaths involving the general public and cattle, an effective information campaign is urgently needed warning of the risks of coming into contact with the animals while enjoying the countryside.

“Unite has long championed the creation of accredited roving safety reps to vastly improve safety in the industry. The government and the HSE must bite the bullet and support such a scheme in order to improve safety,” said Clarkson.

“Only the genuine fear of prosecution will drag the worst employers into line and ensure that workers are better protected,” she added.

By Barckley Sumner

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