A RURAL risk expert is urging farmers not to “rest on one’s laurels” after figures revealed a drop in the number of fatalities in the agricultural industry – with three deaths in the South West.

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.

However, the South West bucked the trend, seeing the number of deaths increase from one in 2018/19 to three deaths in 2019/20.

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.”

Despite the overall drop in fatalities, agriculture is still the riskiest industry to work in, with it reporting the highest fatal injury rate.

In addition, farming businesses were fined almost £350,000 for health and safety breaches in the past year, according to HSE’s website.

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.

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.

“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.”

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