Latest HSE Agricultural Fatality Statistics (2015-16) released – What next?

8 July 2016

Farm safety week logo

RIG Vice Chair Alan Plom reports on the launch of HSE’s latest statistics:

29 people were killed as a result of farming and other agriculture-related activities during 2015-16.  This is a welcome reduction on the previous year’s total of 36 and the average of 37 for the past 5 years. They included 10 employees, 17 self-employed and 2 members of the public – but (thankfully) no children (a long-standing aspirational target for the industry).

However, before we start ‘celebrating’ (and getting complacent) – I am sure you will all agreed that this is still 29 too many, and a notable comment in the 10 year analysis is that “one person is killed every 9 days as a direct result of an agricultural work activity”. The ag industry’s incidence rate is also 17x that of the ‘all-industry’ figure!

HSE announced their latest (provisional) headline figures for workplace fatalities in England, Scotland and Wales on 6 July 2016 - the third day of Farm Safety Week - at the Livestock Event, held at the NEC, Birmingham.

The 2 main causes of fatal injuries were transport (24%) and falls (21%), followed by drownings or asphyxiation (14%); contact with machinery and injured by an animal (both at 10%) + other causes. It also highlights trends and provides summaries of fatalities involving employees, the self-employed and non-employed people killed as a result of a work activity.

HSE’s annual report on 'Fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain 2015/16 provides details of how each of these deaths occurred, as well as a regional breakdown and a detailed analysis and comparison with the past 10 years.


Although the single death in forestry is included, the 3 arboriculture-related incidents have been removed from the ‘agriculture’ statistics, due to a change in how they are recorded.

It is also pointed out that this Report does not include incidents on the road, nor those who succumbed to work-related diseases. 

A useful infographic poster summarising the statistics has also been published. These documents and previous years’ Annual Reports are available via HSE’s agriculture resources webpage.

Ireland’s statistics

As reported recently, 6 people have been killed on farms in Ireland in the first 5 months of 2016, compared with a total of 19 deaths during the calendar year 2015. [See HSA’s Annual Report and detailed analyses.]

Ireland’s Farm Safety Partnership - an advisory committee of the HSA – chose to publish its new ‘Farm Safety Action Plan 2016-18’ during Farm Safety Week (on 7 July). This 3-year strategy lays out a series of specific actions and priorities for tackling the high rates of illness, injury and death on Irish farms. It will make interesting reading and provides some helpful pointers on what others can do.

Keith Morrison (HSE NI’s Chief Executive) reported that 6 deaths occurred on farms in Northern Ireland in 2015-16 (compared with 8 the previous year) – still a very significant number given that there are 25k farms and ~40k workers in the country. He also called on us not to ‘fixate’ on each fatality and reminded us that it is not just about the number of individuals killed – it is their families who continue to suffer the loss.  HSENI, with the support of their partners (including IOSH Rural Industries Section), will continue their “Stop and Think SAFE” campaign – (which cleverly encompasses their main causes of deaths, ie Slurry, Animals, Falls and Equipment).

‘What next?’ - Panel Discussion

Rick Brunt, Head of HSE’s Agriculture, Waste and Recycling Sector, offered some further insight into the latest figures in a Panel Discussion. He was joined by key figures in the industry, including:

  • Charles Matts, Farm Safety Foundation Trustee
  • Guy Smith, NFU Vice President
  • Allan Bowie, President NFU Scotland
  • Keith Morrison, Chief Executive HSE NI
  • Richard Kennedy, Deputy President, Irish Farmers Association (IFA), and
  • Brian Rees, a farmer, trainer and Lantra lead instructor,  (and RIG Committee Member who also represents IOSH on the Wales On-Farm Safety Partnership).

The panellists discussed some of the key elements of the report, shared some personal experiences, highlighted their concerns and hopes, and outlined what they thought could be done better.  All agreed that the 5 national Partnerships and the Regulators should continue to work closely together and share good practice.

There was a general consensus that regulation and rules are not the answer – it is more about education and changing the mind set in this hard-to-reach and influence industry.  The ‘SHAD’ (Safety & Health Awareness Day) approach based on a series of practical demonstrations of best practice developed by HSE ~15 years ago, has been shown to have some impact in workplaces in GB.  This is also being used in Ireland,  such as the very successful joint IOSH north and southern Ireland Branches ‘Farm and Farmer Safety event’ I participated in at Teagasc’s Ballyhaise Agricultural College, in Co. Cavan on 11 November 2015. 115 delegates attended on the day, including many farmers and non-members.

However, we have still to find the ‘next magic pill’ to encourage and enable farmers to put the available guidance into action.

The NFYFC asked an interesting question about why the statistics for older people were so much worse than for 16-24 year olds.  Half of the self-employed people killed were aged 65 and over.  The youngest self-employed person was 38, and the oldest was 86!  Employees who died ranged from 26 to 73.  This prompted some discussion about the causes and also the role that younger people can play in effecting change.  [This is why they are the target group for the Yellow Wellies, of course.]

The importance of maintaining the flow of information, giving practical advice and improving training are clearly areas needing more focus.  The example given was the practical demonstrations of cattle handling at the Show, to help people better understand the ‘psychology’ of cattle to reduce the risk during handling. [This was also a focus of the Managing Cattle Safely Workshop IOSH convened on behalf of the Farm Safety Partnership in October 2014.]

Alan Plom [RIG Vice Chair and IOSH representative on the Board of the Farm Safety Partnership (England)] called on all members of the Partnerships to do more to share information and ideas on “what works well, so we can get better at communicating the key messages”.  Alan suggested that IOSH/RIG could host further Workshops or Webinars, eg on Preventing Falls - similar to those we have hosted on Machinery as well as Livestock Safety.  The intention would be to again involve a wide spectrum of interests from across the industry, including farmers, workers, college staff, trainers and other experts from the various nations to share their experiences and knowledge.  [nb. If you think you can contribute, then please keep your eyes open for further information on this possible IOSH-led event.]

Keith Morrison mentioned that HSENI and the HSA are getting together again in the autumn and plan to involve young farmers and insurance companies to share their insights.  There is also lot more political support in Ireland, and interesting activity on both sides of the border in Ireland, due to the widespread nature of the industry. 

RIG is aware of the extensive research on effective knowledge transfer in farming and rural communities being carried out by Teagasc and associated universities - not least by ‘our very own’ RIG Committee member) Dr John McNamara, who was recently awarded his Doctorate for his thesis on this aspect.

Alan also called for evaluation of the impact and ‘market penetration’ of the Farm Safety Partnership’s Safe Stop’ ‘Tool Box Talk’  (Handover Sheets and decals) and other campaigns. Again, we need your help. If you have any ideas, or wish to get involved, please contact Alan via or via RIG’s Networks Officer (tel 0116 257 3100).