Health and Wellbeing in the Rural Sector

From the extensive publicity in the media, from IOSH (eg via IOSH Magazine and Connect), HSE and other organisations, tweets in the ‘Twittersphere’, etc, you should be aware that week commencing 24 October 2016 is European Week for Safety and Health at Work, and the previous week was Great Britain’s Health and Wellbeing Week.

This article reviews some of the initiatives and resources that are relevant to ‘Health and Wellbeing’ in rural industries, and seeks your feedback on any relevant activities.

GB Health and Wellbeing Week

A wide variety of activities and promotional events were held around GB Health and Wellbeing Week (17-21 October 2016), centering around the four general themes of Worker, Workplace, Wellbeing and Wider Community.

These were intended to enhance everyone's understanding of health and wellbeing. If you missed attending any of the local or national events or organising something in your own workplace, it is not too late to make use of the free resources that are available. These include a sample presentation highlighting the key elements of the 4 ‘W’ themes, as well as good ‘Leadership’:

  • Worker
    Understanding that ill health can impact on the ability of individuals to work and that support should be available to help manage an existing condition or if ill health is experienced, and enable the person to remain in work or return to work early, while supporting their ongoing recovery
  • Workplace
    This is about preventing people becoming ill as a result of their work, by identifying and removing hazards from the workplace, providing training to all managers and employees, and putting into place monitoring and surveillance to ensure workplaces are safe and well maintained
  • Wellbeing
    Everyone should be encouraged to take responsibility for improving their own health and wellbeing. The benefits to the individual extend beyond work, and into their home and family lives as well. A range of activities and information in the workplace are being provided to promote healthy lifestyles and encourage employees to make and sustain positive behaviour changes
  • Wider Community
    Wellbeing should be encouraged not only in our own employees but those in the wider community that we come into contact with. Initiatives that impact families and friends, other organisations' employees and other interested parties are being promoted
  • Leadership
    This describes how an organisation can set out its policies and strategies and have a huge impact upon how successful it is in promoting and delivering improvements in health and wellbeing to employees. Various organisations’ own strategies and tools are described, and these may well promote some thoughts about your own organisation’s approach. This includes an Executive Exercise to get senior management/ Executive Teams involved in a challenge related to health and wellbeing, and creates an opportunity for them to improve their knowledge of the issues that could affect their own business

IOSH was a founder member of the campaign and the GB Health and Wellbeing Week website includes a link to the IOSH ‘No Time To Lose Campaign’. The organisers of the Week are keen to hear how IOSH members and their organisations supported this initiative. Please inform IOSH via

European Week for Safety and Health at Work

This is traditionally held each year in October (calendar week 43) and is organised by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) and its partners. The ‘European Weeks’ in 2016 and 2017 have the campaign theme 'Healthy Workplaces for All Ages' at their heart, with activities focused on raising awareness of the importance of a sustainable working life.

Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign

IOSH is actively involved and supporting the campaign with events and resources to help you:

  • promote sustainable work and healthy ageing throughout people’s working lives
  • provide employers and employees with information and tools to help manage the occupational safety and health of an ageing workforce
  • facilitate the exchange of information and good practice in this area
  • by raising awareness of the importance of good occupational health and safety management throughout people's working lives, and by tailoring work to an individual's abilities

Feedback wanted

You will no doubt agree with Shelley Frost (IOSH Executive Director Policy) when announcing the IOSH support for the campaign, said: "Working lives are getting longer – older workers are a valuable resource, making positive contributions to organisations and good occupational safety and health management helps ensure that all workers can fulfil their potential at work. IOSH would like to hear about the activities you organise, so please keep us posted.”

Please let us know of any events or materials you have developed or used.

The challenge of an ageing workforce in agriculture

At a recent meeting of the IOSH East Anglia Branch, Judith McNulty-Green [Policy Adviser at IOSH, who is working closely with IOSH Rural Industries Group (RIG)] highlighted research that suggests that by 2030, 55 to 64-year-olds will make up at least 30% of Europe's workforce and that this brings about increased health risks.

However, this is already a significant ‘problem’ in GB farming. The latest Defra statistics (2013) indicate that more than double this anticipated proportion of farmers are already over 55 (62%), with 34% over 65 years old! This is reflected in the fatal accident statistics too. The latest report from the HSE shows that around half of all worker fatalities in 2015/16 were to workers aged over 65.

Health in later life is also affected by working conditions in earlier life, and longer working lives may result in longer exposure to risks, resulting in more workers with chronic health problems and specific needs. This makes rehabilitation and return to work procedures of increased importance and businesses are being encouraged to consider preventative measures throughout an employee's working life. Consideration should be given to a number of other factors, such as work environment and organisation, training and lifelong learning, and work-life balance.

Judith also emphasised that: "Promoting sustainable work and healthy ageing can result in a healthier and more motivated workforce, retention of knowledge and expertise and greater business productivity. It requires a holistic approach and consideration of a range of factors. These require input and commitment from all parties in that multi-disciplinary team."

The East Anglia meeting, which was called 'Mindfulness, stress and resilience at work' also heard social psychologist Jutta Tobias speak about how people can manage their stress levels by learning to become more aware of their own thoughts and emotions.

Other Resources

  • HSL Webinar - HSL held an interesting ‘Health Webinar’ on 18th October. If you missed it there is another opportunity to learn about HSL's approach to integrated health and wellbeing management and how to get started, on Thursday 24th November at 13:00. Register for this webinar
  • ‘Choice’ Newsletter - This electronic newsletter provides a wealth of quick hints, tips and information in a few pages - providing information to help individuals to make their own choices with regards to their own lifestyle. It includes tips on mental wellbeing, relaxation, eating, sleeping and exercise. Many companies have downloaded and printed these to hand out to every employeeFit for farming
  • Fit for Farming’ - This excellent 36 page A5 ‘health manual’ - put together by the Yorkshire Rural Support Network – can be read on line or downloaded
  • ‘Ill health in farming (Still No Time to Lose)’ – This RIG News item (posted on 8 July for Day 6 of Farm Safety Week 2016), highlighted Fit for Farming and the similar booklet available in Ireland entitled “Staying Fit for Farming”. This News item is also worth (re)reading as it contains links to these and other useful sources of information and guidance
  • Rural Health Check ‘MoT’s’ - This interesting initiative in Derbyshire was reported in Farmers Weekly on 29 Sept. Farmers attending Bakewell Market were offered free NHS check-ups, organised by the Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust. About 40 health assessments were completed, and many more were seen by a physiotherapist and/or a podiatrist. Their comments confirm the challenge we face to improve health in the farming community

RIG involvement

IOSH Rural Industries Group (RIG) has had a direct input to the discussions on how to improve Health and Wellbeing in agriculture. RIG Committee members David Knowles and Alan Plom attended this interesting seminar at the Great Yorkshire Show in July. It was convened by HSE, NFU and the Farm Safety Partnership, and funded by the EU-OSHA Healthy Workplaces campaign. Discussion focused on some of the unique challenges of working in agriculture – not least the high number of British farmers who work beyond the normal retirement age.

As Guy Smith (Chair of the FSP and NFU Vice President) said when the latest HSE stats were released in July: “It should also be noted that an alarming half of the farming fatalities occur in the 65-plus age group. Agriculture is unique in the way it involves so many people who would in other industries be beyond the age of retirement. While agriculture is in many ways richer for this, all ages must recognise that we are killing too many of our older generation and I call on young people in particular not to be reluctant to lecture their ‘elders and betters’ to take more care on farm.”

All delegates at the Seminar were asked to commit either themselves or their organisations to three actions, which could be carried out within 1, 3 and 9 months. A wide range of local and national initiatives were promised by stakeholders.

Details are expected to be published after a progress review meeting on 26th October, but on behalf of RIG, Vice Chair Alan Plom agreed to publicise this initiative by ‘tweeting’ about the event and writing this article. In the medium to longer term we have offered to encourage and enable evaluation of current Farm Safety Partnership (FSP) initiatives such as ‘Safe Stop’, e.g. via stakeholders who could help to collect information to establish base-lines on level of awareness and any actions these campaigns or materials have stimulated.

RIG has also offered to convene events (workshops or webinars) for the FSP on other key topics such as effective training and communications, eg to promote safe work at height and ATV safety.

These events would be in addition to the Networking Event on ‘Safe Farm Transport & Deliveries’ we are already planning for May 2017 at Askham Bryan College, York, on behalf of the FSP. This is being organised in association with the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), the trade association for the agri-supply industry.

Further information will be issued asap, but if you are willing and able to assist with any of these initiatives, please contact Alan Plom RIG Vice Chair (and IOSH rep on the FSP Board) via

IOSH Rural Industries Group Vice-Chair
Events & Communications Coordinator
October 2016