Farm Safety Week (Day 6) – Occupational Health – ‘No Time To Lose’

10 July 2015

Farm safety week

IOSH Rural Industries Group (RIG) decided to ‘extend’ the third annual ‘Farm Safety Week’ across the UK and Ireland into the weekend, as farming is a 24/7 occupation.  We are using this opportunity to highlight health hazards, and in particular, the IOSH No Time to Lose campaign. 

Whilst health issues are not currently a high priority for the Farm Safety Partnership (an Occupational Health Group was proposed, but not established yet), it is evident that the impact of ill health in the industry is very significant. 

Whilst the use of farm machinery, handling of livestock, working at height, etc,  pose obvious risks, the health impacts of working long hours in the sun, or exposures to other carcinogens or hazards to health can often be overlooked.

As we know, reporting of ill health in the agricultural sector is very poor, so accurate statistics are difficult to glean.  However, traditionally, and based on the various sources of information (eg Labour Force Survey, etc), HSE has stated that, in agriculture:

  • Musculo-Skeletal Disorders (MSD) cause 75% of ‘Lost Time’ injuries
  • 80% of workers admit to suffering some form of MSD.
  • 20,000 are affected by zoonoses.
  • 25% of workers suffer from hearing loss.
  • 2x national average rate of asthma.

Typical health hazards include:

  • Respiratory – organic dusts, spores, etc (URTI)
  • Chemicals – gases (vapours/fumes) + pesticides, oils, plant saps, etc
  • Diseases – E coli (O157) and Cryptosporidium Salmonella, Streptococcus, Tetanus, Leptospirosis/Weil’s Disease, Lyme Disease; Legionella, Toxicara, blood-borne infections (eg Hepatitis, HIV, etc - needle stick injuries)
  • Musculo Skeletal Disorders (MSDs)
  • Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) / Manual handling
  • Seating and posture
  • Noise & Vibration - Hand-Arm/Whole-Body (related to manual handling/MSD’s too)
  • Sun – Skin cancer
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • ……STRESS!!!

Fit For Farming

Fit for Farming is a health manual that has been put together by the Yorkshire Rural Support Network, supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.  It is aimed at enabling farmers to “age well.” The booklet combines practical information about symptoms with advice and where to find help and is illustrated by cartoonist, Henry Brewis.

The booklet contains advice on well-being, accidents, ageing well and occupational health, making for a very comprehensive and readable source of information.  

The booklet has been very widely distributed across the country and won a Highly Commended classification at the BMA Awards in London at the end of 2011 in the ‘Best Patient Information’ Category.

The booklet can be read online.

Fit for farming


Stress is a very real problem in our industry, which is often hidden.  Various support groups exist to help at the local level.  Farmers Weekly collated a number of previous articles on stress-related topics

Welding Fume

HSE recently highlighted ‘welding fume- (produced during welding and ‘hot activity’ work) and its association with occupational asthma. Welders have a greater chance of getting asthma than the average worker, particularly if welding stainless steel.

Occupational Cancers

IOSH launched its ‘No Time To Lose’ campaign in November last year, drawing attention to the impact of Occupational Cancers, which claim the lives of around 8,000 people a year across Britain, with victims developing it after exposure to carcinogens at work. This major campaign is intended to get the causes of occupational cancer better understood, and help businesses take action – across all sectors.

IOSH is rightly raising awareness of mesothelioma and other occupational cancers through its No Time to Lose campaign.  The latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics revealed that 2,538 people died in Britain in 2013 due to mesothelioma. This was down marginally from 2,548 in 2012. In light of the HSE figures, IOSH has reaffirmed its commitment towards shaping a safe, healthy and sustainable world of work.

However, few in the farming industry recognise the range of hazards or are ‘signed up’ to do anything about them.  Yet, despite spending much of their time in the open air – in what may appear to be a ‘healthy environment’ – farmers and farmworkers aren’t exempt from being exposed to some of the most common occupational cancer risks. For example:

Diesel fumes

Anyone using diesel-powered tractors, machinery and generators can be exposed to the hazardous fumes they emit. Research has shown that these fumes contain over ten times the amount of soot particles than in petrol exhaust fumes, with the mixture also including several carcinogenic substances.

Breathing in high quantities of diesel fumes, particularly in an enclosed space like a farm workshop, packhouse or other storage buildings, etc, has the potential to cause irritation to eyes and lungs in the short-term. Prolonged exposure, however, can be even more harmful, often resulting in chronic respiratory problems and an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

Sadly, around 650 people a year die from lung or bladder cancer related to diesel engine exhaust emissions  and IOSH is urging farmworkers to take preventative steps to reduce the risk of being exposed to the fumes.

Steps could include:

  • Considering the type and quality of fuel being used, and where and how the engine is used and maintained.
  • Be on the lookout for blue or black smoke being emitted when the engines are running. A problem like this could mean that more toxic fumes are being produced.
  • Wearing respiratory protective equipment if working in close quarters to diesel-powered machinery for a prolonged period of time can also reduce the exposure risk.

Other key causes of occupational cancer

As well as diesel fumes, ‘No Time to Lose’ is also highlighting other causes of cancer registrations and deaths.

Farmers/farmworkers should obviously  consider potential exposure to asbestos in older buildings, as well solar radiation from working long hours in the open air, and even the impacts of working long and irregular shifts.

The fact is around five per cent of all cancer cases in Britain are caused by work, making it the fifth biggest avoidable cause behind lifestyle choices like smoking and diet. Cancer prevention not only benefits workers and their families, but businesses and economies too – it’s an investment, not a cost.

The recent Telegraph article about hazards in farming (referred to earlier during Farm Safety Week) mentioned health risks and Cancer in particular.  “Unexpectedly, farm workers can be at greater risk of cancer for a few different reasons. Cancer Research UK says that workers who regularly spray pesticides could be at a slightly higher risk of developing cancer.

Skin Cancer

Meanwhile, working all day in the sun can also cause increased levels of skin cancer. In 2004 one in ten new cancers caused by solar radiation were in agriculture, despite the fact that the agricultural workforce made up only one percent of the total British workforce.

New research commissioned by the charity has found that, on average, five people a week in the UK are diagnosed with skin cancer as a result of working outside with inadequate protection from the sun.

The fact is, however, that nine out of ten of all skin cancer deaths could be prevented if people control their exposure to the sun’s rays.  Simple measures like checking the UV Index, wearing long-sleeved clothing while working outdoors and minimising exposure to direct sunlight in the middle of the day all helps.

RIG activity so far

In addition to highlighting the No Time to Lose campaign this week as part of its support for Farm Safety Week across the UK and Ireland.

Kevin Bywater (RIG Chair) has written to the farming press drawing attention to the campaign, and Farmers Weekly have published his letters.

Kevin also attended the launch of the Skin Cancer ‘phase’ in London recently, and made several useful contacts.  We also promoted the recent event organised by IOSH Public Services Group.

Please let us know of any opportunities that we can use to promote the campaign and raise awareness of these very real risks throughout the industry, by contacting RIG’s Networks Officer at IOSH HQ via or tel 0116 257 3100

What next?

We should act today, so we save lives tomorrow – there really is ‘no time to lose’.

Please visit the NTTL campaign website to find out more and to download or request relevant campaign materials. The free NTTL free resource packs contain factsheets, infographics, leaflets, posters, presentations, films and more - everything you need to engage and inform the workforce.

Thank you.