Farm Safety Week 2015 (Day 2) - Take chances with machinery? Not on your life!

8 July 2015

Farm safety week

Machinery safety is the theme for the second day of this year’s Farm Safety Week. Many of you will already have read the press statement issued by the Farm Safety Foundation quoting Alan Plom, Vice Chair of IOSH Rural Industries Group.  Alan is a member of England’s Farm Safety Partnership (FSP) Board and chairs the FSP’s Machinery Group. 

“Taking precautions to ensure the safety of you and your workforce can save lives and help prevent serious injury. Much of farm work is carried out using heavy machinery and equipment and it is imperative that farmers put the safety of themselves and their employees first. Over the last 10 years, six people have been killed by contact with the moving parts of equipment or machinery – eight per cent of all fatalities.”

HSE analysis of machinery-related deaths
Alan would also like to point out that a detailed analysis of machinery-related accidents was recently presented by HSE to their Agricultural Industry Advisory Committee (AIAC) and also to the FSPs Machinery Safety Steering Group.  

This timely and helpful review indicated that 200 people were killed in ‘machinery-related’ incidents during the 10 years 2004-2014 - nearly 50% of all fatalities in agriculture. HSE’s analysis revealed that:
Workplace transport accounted for 124 of these 200 deaths – but that is a story for tomorrow! 
Contact with machinery resulted in 35 of the 200 deaths - and many more injuries of course, many of which go unreported, serious or otherwise.  
• Almost every type of common agricultural machine has been involved in a fatal accident.
• The most common types of machinery involved were round balers (6), chainsaws (5), feed mixers (3), potato harvesters (2) and combines (2).
• In 29 of the 35 deaths occurred during  maintenance – either planned, during a breakdown or while clearing blockages.
• A further 25 were killed by being struck by machinery, or something falling from a vehicle or machine. These included 5 people struck by a trailer tail gate. [nb.  We have heard that in one incident a person was even drowned in grain when the tailgate mechanism failed!] 5 others were struck by loader arms and 4 by loader buckets.  [nb. The hazard of buckets becoming detached eg while being used as a ‘post-knocker’ has been widely covered in the media before.]
• 8 people were also killed as a result of machinery contacting overhead power lines [nb.  These are in in addition to 10’s of thousands of ‘damage-only’ contacts and ‘near misses’ – but many of which have cut off electricity supply to neighbouring areas.   Some say it is better to call these ‘Near Hits”!]

HSE’s conclusions and recommendations to improve Machinery Safety:
• We should (all) continue to promote ‘Safe Stop’.
• Machinery maintenance is a key problem area, where Safe Stop is particularly relevant. 
• Persons using machinery are often using it in ways not foreseen by manufacturers and we need to consider the extent to which manufacturers should address these issues.
• Contact with OHPLs is the biggest cause of electrical fatalities and we need to promote good practice.
• Falls, [ie using machinery for (unsafe) access, or falls from machines] - also need to promote good practice.

A horrific first-hand account of a serious machinery incident 

Also featured in the Foundation’s Press Release is self-employed farmer Dave Allen of Cornwall, who is keen to highlight the harsh reality of learning safety by accident, having lost his foot. A third generation farmer, he shares his story:

It began in 2008 - a poor year for harvesting. Wet weather had restricted work but when it became drier and brighter, Dave was able to resume harvesting wheat for a contractor. He was working alone when some grain got stuck in the tank of the combine.  He did what he, his father, grandfather and others had done for the last 30 years and got into the tank to release the grain by kicking it to make it move. Unfortunately, on this occasion (as in many others over the years), his decision to rectify the situation as quickly as possible led to horrific consequences. 

Dave explained in graphic terms what happened next: "Rather than using the ladder to enter the tank, which would have stopped all the mechanisms, I decided to go in over the top – which meant the mechanisms were still fully operational.  The machinery got hold of my boot, so I tried to pull my foot out of it. I managed to release my leg but realised that something was seriously wrong. I was wearing a boiler suit and couldn’t see the bottom of my leg – but I knew from the weight that my foot was gone. I also knew that it was only a matter of moments before my boiler suit was going to get caught and then that would be it. I knew I had to get out of the grain tank or I wasn’t going to survive," he recalls.

Fully conscious, Dave managed to haul himself out of the tank onto the combine’s cab roof.  He climbed down into the cab where his phone was and rang the contractor he was working for to get him an ambulance.

After spending a month in hospital and a month with family learning to move around with crutches, Dave then had the painful process of learning to walk again, months of physiotherapy and adapting to a prosthesis. Even after everything he endured Dave considers himself one of the lucky ones…

"I have been so lucky. I’ve had a good support system around me and the contractor I was working for continued paying me so there was no hardship financially. Not everyone is that blessed. It was five months before I was able to return to work and life could have been much worse than it turned out to be."

"I’d never broken a bone in my body before that day," he says, "Everybody in farming knows somebody who has been injured or killed in an accident. My advice to others is quite simple: do not do what I did. Just really think and realise that these safety devices are there for a reason and do not over-ride them. One day it could be you. Don’t think it only happens to others. I’m proof that isn’t the case."

Alan Plom added: “This Farm Safety Week we are echoing Dave’s call not to learn safety by accident. (For example) PTO shafts and augers are dangerous and can rip off a limb or kill in seconds. Make sure they are fitted with proper guards that are correctly used and maintained. A properly guarded PTO shaft prevents life changing injuries and even death. Always take your time to think about what you are doing and what might go wrong as making a few simple checks could actually save a life – maybe your own!” 

See a film of Dave Allen’s story on HSE’s ‘Make The Promise’ webpage

Other recent machinery incidents and prosecutions

• Young farmworker killed in feeder wagon

Farmers Weekly reported  that a 26-year-old man from the Bridgend area was pronounced dead at a farm in the Hensol area of Pontyclun, south Wales early on Saturday 23 May. The Police and HSE are investigating. It is believed that he fell into a feeder wagon, whilst under power –  just the type of accident that Safe Stop is intended to prevent. 

• Rescue of man trapped in potato harvester featured on TV

One major incident previously highlighted by RIG was featured on BBC Countryfile last year.  They were able to use footage filmed for the BBC’s ‘Helicopter Heroes’ series about the Air Ambulance service.  They filmed the graphic scene as the Emergency Services took more than 90 minutes to extract the operator’s leg from the haulm rollers of a potato harvester.  Unfortunately they were unable to save it, and the injured person Darren Taylor gave his own moving account of his struggle to recover and cope with his injuries. See report and more information on Safe Stop and other similar cases, on RIGs webpage
It has also come to our attention that a farmer in the South West was prosecuted recently following a serious accident with a potato harvester last summer.  The usual scenario: harvester got blocked up and the worker removed the guards to access the haulm rollers whilst they were in motion.  He sustained serious leg injuries when he was drawn in by the rollers.

You may also be aware of these recent cases involving machinery maintenance from press coverage:

• Prosecution following fatality while maintaining a self-propelled fertiliser spreader 
This resulted from the deceased not performing ‘safe stop’ prior to attempting to make an adjustment, contrary to the instructions provided by the manufacturer on how to perform the adjustment.

• Ag Machinery Dealer fined after 16 year-old injured by machinery
A Maidstone company specialising in supplying agricultural machinery and motor vehicles Was been fined after a teenager on paid work experience nearly lost the tips of his fingers in unguarded machinery. He was working alongside an experienced engineer carrying out a pre-delivery inspection of a new combine header unit at a company site near, Ashford, Kent, when the incident happened on 16 July 2013.

• Vegetable nursery fined after worker’s arm severed 
Don’t forget static plant and machinery!  An Essex company was fined in March 2015 for a worker’s life-changing injury.  He had only been employed by the firm for just four months prior to the incident on 30 April 2014.  He was tensing a sheet and trying to feed it squarely into a roller when his glove became tangled.  His left arm was dragged into the machine and severed at the lower forearm when it became jammed between two parts.

New ideas needed for FSP’s ‘Safe Stop’ campaign 

These incidents all highlight the need to promote and follow the simple 4-step procedure described in the FSP’s ‘Safe Stop’ campaign. 

Alan Plom reports: The Farm Safety Partnership’s Machinery Group have now produced the self-adhesive Safe Stop stickers in the form of a ‘Handover Sheet’, which includes background information as well as describing the procedure. These are intended to be used as part of training or Tool Box Talks, for example, and we want to make these more widely available.  [NB.  If you are interested in obtaining copies (or preferably arranging printing) of these, please contact the FSP Secretariat

If you are inspired and able to help in any way, or if you or you know someone who has experienced an accident and would like to be a 'Safe Stop Ambassador' by sharing your story and advocating the importance of following the 'Safe Stop' procedure, please contact the Farm Safety Partnership using the online form

Alan also calls on the industry to find new ways to tackle this problem, eg to protect operators whilst machinery is being cleaned under power.  “It is proving particularly difficult to persuade some operators to follow the Safe Stop procedure at all times, eg during cleaning machinery or clearing blockages.  It is also argued that many machines must be kept under power.  So, we need to find new remote or automatic ways to clean or unblock machinery.  Please send any ideas to