Farm Safety Week Day 6 - Ill health in farming (Still No Time to Lose)

8 July 2016

Once again, IOSH Rural Industries Group (RIG) has decided to ‘extend’ the Farm Safety Foundation’s 5-day ‘Farm Safety Week’ into the weekend, as farming is a ‘24/7’ occupation.  We are using the 6th day to highlight health hazards.

Last year, our equivalent News item on Day 6 featured the IOSH No Time to Lose campaign, and that information is still very relevant.  IOSH launched its ‘No Time To Lose’ campaign in November 2014, aiming to draw attention to the impact of Occupational Cancers, which claim the lives of around 8,000 people a year across Britain, with victims often develop symptoms well after exposure to carcinogens at work. This major campaign is intended to get the causes of occupational cancers better understood, and help businesses take action – across all sectors.

We have highlighted the potential for occupational cancers arising from asbestos, exposure to the sun, as well as diesel and welding fumes. The current focus is on respirable crystalline silica (RCS), which is also pertinent. Please visit the IOSH 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.  Why not use them in Tool Box Talks?

Unfortunately, occupational health issues are still not given a high priority for the Farm Safety Partnership, as their focus remains on reducing fatal accidents.  Although it is evident that the impact of ill health in the industry is very significant, the health impacts of working long hours in the sun, or exposures to carcinogens and other hazards to health are often overlooked by farmers.  We also know that the effects of exposure to noise and vibration are very high in the industry, and yet are often not been adequately addressed. Reporting of ill health in the agricultural sector remains very poor too, so it is impossible to get accurate statistics – to quote or to argue the case for an increased emphasis. 

See last year’s RIG News posted for Farm Safety Week ‘Day 6’ which highlighted key health issues and sources of relevant information and guidance.

Skin Care

HSENI recently launched a new drive to promote skin safety at work. They have teamed up with District Councils to raise awareness about skin safety in the workplace. Staff from HSENI and local councils will be visiting businesses to raise awareness of the importance of safe working to reduce the chances of employees suffering painful and sometimes debilitating skin conditions. When inspectors visit they will be expecting ‘safe skin’ to be considered in risk assessments and expect to see effective arrangements in place to reduce risks to workers.

For more detailed information on this initiative and advice, including in relation to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and work-related dermatitis visit HSENI’s ‘Skin Care’ webpage.  See also HSE’s ‘Skin at Work webpage.

Fit For Farming

The Fit for Farming ‘health manual’, put together by the Yorkshire Rural Support Network, supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, is an excellent all-round source of guidance too.  It combines practical information about symptoms together with advice, and where to find help. If you haven’t read it yet – download it TODAY!

Fit for Farming cover

A similar booklet is also available in Ireland, entitled “Staying Fit for Farming”. It was being circulated nationally through the Irish Farmers Journal and is available from Teagasc, HSA, HSE and FBD websites and offices. For further information see Teagasc Press Release.

A recent farmers health campaign run in Ireland coincided with International Men’s Health Week (13 to 19 June). Promoting the ‘Week’ Teagasc’s Health and Safety Specialist (and RIG Committee member) Dr John McNamara said that farmers need to give more emphasis to their health for quality of life and farm production reasons. The aim of the week was threefold: to heighten awareness of preventable health problems for males of all ages; to support men and boys to engage in healthier lifestyle choices/activities and to encourage the early detection and treatment of health difficulties in males.

And finally - Stress on Stress

RIG Vice Chair Alan Plom is keen to highlight another topic that is often “swept under the carpet – along with the dust”!  There are increasing reports of the prevalence of stress-related mental ill-health and the high number of suicides amongst farmers and their families – induced by the pressures on their businesses.

It is widely held that one in four people in the UK are affected by serious mental ill-health, and it seems farmers are particularly at risk. The Farming Community Network (FCN) report that there is one suicide each week involving farms – so this outstrips those killed by work-related accidents.  It has also been suggested that stress can also contribute to accidents, eg because an operator’s mind is not ‘on the job’ or ill-judgements can be made due to tiredness or simply not ‘thinking straight’.

The FCN has strong and longstanding links with the farming community and agriculture throughout England and Wales. Their volunteers are all farmers or are associated with farming and understand the problems facing agriculture today. They also understand how interconnected the farm business and household are, and have already helped thousands of farmers with problems or issues in the following areas:

  • Business
  • Family
  • Health and
  • Farm

FCN strives to make itself known to any and all in the farming community who might one day need them or who might like to help and support the charity.  All its services are made available to those in need, from all faiths or none, in a supportive, non-judgmental manner. 

See HSE’s extensive advice on stress There have been many articles in the media recently too, eg Farmers Weekly have helpfully collated a number of previous articles on stress-related topics. This includes an interesting article about an initiative in Scotland targeting young people, and involving the SAYFC.

So, there are support networks out there who can help anyone suffering.  Don’t ignore it if you feel worried about anyone in your sphere of operation.

A final plea from Alan: I can speak personally, as I lost a dear friend who succumbed to work-related pressures. Health and ‘well-being’ matter and we should all act today, to help save lives tomorrow – there really is ‘no time to lose’ .

Thank you.