A guide to farming risks, potential problems with public safety and how to avoid accidents
Farming is a hazardous occupation. The industry represents approximately 1.8% of the workforce in Great Britain but accounts for about 19% of the reported fatal injuries each year. The four most common types of accident on farms involve vehicles and machinery, falls from heights, lifting and handling and hazardous substances. The rate of self-reported illness in agriculture is also significantly higher than the average for all industries.
You can reduce the chance of problems occurring with careful attention to the health and safety rules that govern farming. Doing so can help you significantly reduce the personal, social and financial costs of accidents.
This guide highlights the main health and safety risks in farming. It offers advice to help you avoid accidents within buildings, hazardous chemicals, handling livestock, vehicles and machinery. This guide also looks at potential problems with public safety that you should be aware of.
Health and safety risk assessments
It is important to be proactive about the health and safety aspects of your farm business. All accidents can be avoided if the risks are properly managed.
In order for you to identify and so avoid accidents on your farm, it is vital to undertake a risk assessment. This will enable you to see which areas of your farm pose the greatest risk to health and safety. Once you have identified these potential risks, you can then take practical steps to avoid accidents.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require that all employers or the self-employed assess their own risk, and the risk to anyone working for them regarding their working environment. The law requires you to take all reasonably practicable steps to avoid accidents in the workplace.
This does not mean that you are required to completely eliminate all health and safety risks on your farm, but rather that you take all steps that are reasonably practical to ensure you and your staff work in a safe environment. This means practising sensible risk management and introducing controls that are proportionate to the risks.
You could also use interactive software to perform a risk assessment. Download the farm self-assessment software from the HSE website (EXE, 740K).
Safety and Health Awareness Days (SHADs)
HSE also offers SHADs throughout the year. These days are intended to provide practical demonstrations that cover the everyday hazards that farmers face. Find out when SHADs are scheduled in your area on the HSE website or you can call the SHAD Information Line on Tel 01752 276 315.
Buildings health and safety
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 cover basic health, safety and welfare issues that apply to most workplaces.
Because of the nature of farming and the potential hazards that a typical farm may present, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has also worked in partnership with the HSE to develop guidance for all farmers.
- be certain that all buildings are kept in good repair and that floors are not overloaded, especially in feed lofts
- provide handrails on stairs and ramps where needed
- make sure there are safety hoops or rest stages on long vertical fixed ladders
- keep all workshops tidy
- equip inspection pits with accessible escape routes and cover pits when not in use
- provide adequate lighting and replace any old lights
- ensure there is good drainage and non-slip flooring for wet areas
The farming workplace can provide a number of confined spaces like fuel storage tanks, grain silos and slurry pits. These can present numerous risks that include drowning, asphyxiation and toxic gases. Accidents in confined spaces often result in multiple loss of life. To avoid any risks, you should:
- complete any work from outside the space whenever possible
- enter confined spaces only when absolutely necessary and then only with adequate ventilation and after having tested that the atmosphere is safe for entry
- fully assess the risks and decide on what control measures are necessary before entering a confined space
- plan for emergencies including arrangements for rescue
- be sure that sumps, slurry tanks, reception pits and spaces under slatted floors are properly ventilated and tested before entering
Any new buildings that are constructed on your farm, or that undergo significant modifications, must be undertaken in accordance with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 taking account of the relevant British Standards. Your local authority will have building inspectors that can advise whether planning permission and building regulations may apply to your proposed building work.
If you are constructing a steel-framed building, these have a higher risk of collapse during their building process. You will need to take special precautions for this work.
Most farm buildings have a fragile roof. They were designed to keep the weather out, and not to bear weight. Fragile roofs should never be walked across unless suitable means to do so are in place to prevent injury from a fall.
Once you have determined that work needs to be done, you will have to plan and carry out a risk assessment before work can begin. Decide if you have the skills needed to do this work safely, then select and use suitable access equipment. Any staging equipment or scaffolding must meet correct specifications.
Working in farming exposes you to a number of chemicals on a regular basis. You may come into contact with detergents, disinfectants, pesticides, fertilisers including ammonium nitrate and veterinary medicines. Careful management of these chemicals will protect you and your employees. You will also be complying with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
Some of the agricultural substances that are hazardous to health include:
- dust from plants, animals, poultry, fermented and composted materials and biocides
- medicines and feed additives
- products used in silage production
- fertilizers and soil improvers
- paints, oils, lubricants, brake fluid, cleaning chemicals, disinfectants and detergents
- micro-organisms and animal-borne diseases (zoonoses) such as cryptosporidiosis, leptospirosis, psittacosis, salmonella and Escherichia coli O157 (E coli O157)
- toxic gases, ie slurry pit gases
- exhaust fumes and other fumes, ie fumes from welding
Read more about dealing with hazardous chemicals in the guide on hazardous waste: treatment and disposal.
How to control hazardous chemicals
In order to reduce the risks of hazardous materials on your farm, you should look at using less hazardous alternatives where possible. If this is not possible, you should consider control measures. For example, you could:
- put lids on storage bins
- enclose transfer points and conveying systems
- install dust extraction
- operate fresh air blowers
- wear suitable personal protective clothing and equipment including respirators
- wash exposed skin after work and apply moisturising cream after drying
You must also be vigilant, as some dusts such as grain and poultry dust can cause occupational asthma. You should monitor the health of your workers to detect early symptoms and seek appropriate medical advice.
Handling livestock should be a major component of your health and safety policy, in order to prevent injury to yourself and others who have to handle your livestock - such as vets. You should already have proper restraining and handling equipment to minimise any risks when handling livestock for routine tasks. Other equipment, such as halters, bull poles and pig boards should be available for larger animals like cattle and pigs.
Anything you use to guide the animals when moving them - such as pig boards, paddles or flat slap sticks - should not have sharp edges that could harm the animal. The use of electric goads should be avoided as far as possible.
For further information, see the page on cattle welfare during transportation, at market and at shows in the guide on cattle welfare and the guide on [sheep and goat welfare](https://whitehall-admin.production.alphagov.co.uk/government/admin/detailed-guides/6727].
Whenever animals need to be restrained for treatments or other tasks, they must be contained and be unable to move at will. If you have cattle that are likely or known to kick, then leg restraints should be used.
You may not tether a pig unless it is undergoing an examination, test, treatment or operation carried out for any veterinary purpose. Where tethers are used, they must not cause injury to the pigs and must be inspected regularly and adjusted as necessary to ensure a comfortable fit.
All sheep farmers should have secure and easily operated handling pens to facilitate routine management and treatment, on a size and scale to suit the flock numbers. Pens and floors should be kept in a good state of repair and should not have any sharp edges or projections.
Sheep should be handled or restrained by means of a hand or an arm under the neck (holding the neck wool, if necessary) with the other arm placed on or around the rear. Lifting or dragging sheep by the fleece, tail, ears, horns or legs is unacceptable and dangerous.
Devices such as raddles, harnesses, tethers and yokes should be of suitable material and should be properly fitted and adjusted. They should be checked regularly and kept in good condition. Tethering by the horns is not acceptable.
It’s recommended that cattle should only be handled by those who are over 13 years of age and under 65.
Every farm that handles cattle should have proper handling facilities which are well maintained and in good working order. The minimum requirements are a crush and holding pen with short race or forcing pen. Longer races are more suitable for larger numbers. A good, well-designed handling system will last many years, reduce labour requirements, improve animal welfare and be safer.
Halters and ropes can be useful for handling and moving cattle around areas of the farm. The rope used should be of a suitable material, eg soft twisted rope or leather, but never baler twine.
Bulls should be handled with care. They should be ringed (a ring through the nose) at ten months of age, and you should inspect this regularly. Their accommodation must contain outer walls of at least 1.5 metres high and made from strong materials to contain the animal.
All cattle should be checked daily. If you keep dairy cows, they should be trained to the dairy parlour process.
Handling animals in the field
There will be some occasions when you will need to carry out tasks while your animals are in the field and without proper handling facilities. In order to reduce risk, you should have a vehicle nearby so that you can escape if necessary. If you intend to do any planned work then it is worth considering a mobile handling system.
You should also have at least two people present when you need to separate an animal from its herd. These additional people can assist in keeping other animals away from you as you work, as well as give warnings of any problems.
Machinery and vehicles
Accidents involving farm machinery and vehicles cause numerous injuries and fatalities. The majority of these could be prevented by taking the proper precautions.
For more information on safety when using vehicles on your land, see the guide on vehicles and machinery on farms.
Design, manufacture and supply of machinery
Machinery and equipment manufactured and supplied for use at work must be safe and without risk to health of users. You can find guidance for machine designers, manufacturers and suppliers on the HSE website.
Purchasing your machines
Regulations require that all machinery, vehicles and equipment must be safe to use with the dangerous parts properly guarded. They must also be suitable for the tasks they’ll be used for.
When you purchase a machine, it should carry a ‘CE’ mark. This shows that the machine has been built to the minimum legal safety requirements. You should also receive a ‘certificate of conformity’ that also confirms safety requirements.
You should also receive its operator’s manual, a workshop manual and details on noise levels. If noise levels exceed the legal limits, then properly fitted ear protection should be provided. All of these fall within the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER).
Using your machines
When using your farm machinery and vehicles, you must be sure that they are always well maintained, repaired and in good working order. Regular maintenance checks should be carried out according to the individual manufacturers’ guidelines.
To help avoid farming accidents involving vehicles, machinery or other equipment, it is recommended that you keep them well maintained and repaired at all times. Seatbelts (or lap belts) should be worn to prevent you from being thrown from the vehicle. You should also not carry any loose tools in the vehicle cab, as these can be dangerous in the event of a crash.
Vehicle and machinery parts can cause damage if not properly maintained or regularly replaced. Many farm machines have dangerous parts such as drive shafts, belts, pulleys, augers, conveyors and other moving components which cut, chop or process materials. These can cause severe injuries if people come into contact with them, so it is essential that they are properly guarded. Machines should always be made safe before attempting to deal with blockages or other problems.
Training in how to operate equipment safely, the use of personal protective equipment and the procedures required to work safely is vital. It is also a legal requirement.
Recognised standards of formal training and/or competence are normally required for using chainsaws, tree work, applying pesticides, riding all-terrain vehicles, operating fork lift trucks and telescopic materials handlers, sheep dipping and first aid.
A good basic knowledge of typical farm hazards, risks and control measures, and an understanding of how to undertake risk assessments properly, are just some of the topics covered by health and safety vocational qualifications specific to farming and horticulture. These nationally recognised qualifications are available at three academic levels and are supported by a range of training courses and learning materials.
Lantra is the Skills Sector Council for environmental and land-based industries in the UK. You can search for agricultural training courses on the Lantra website.
The National Proficiency Tests Council (NPTC) is an awarding body for the agricultural sector. They offer training for vocational qualifications such as NVQs in a range of subjects including proper manual handling and use of dangerous tools such as chainsaws. You can find a list of courses on the NPTC website.
Farming activities can pose risks to the health and safety of you and your employees, and also to any contractors or visitors - including walkers, hikers and cyclists - that may come onto your land. Public safety should be a part of your overall health and safety policy.
If you carry out a risk assessment, you can minimise any risks to those on your land.
Rights of way
If you have people passing through on your land, you must minimise any risk of injury to them.
The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 means that you must take care to make sure that any invited visitors onto your land are reasonably safe, and that there are adequate warnings of any danger. The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984 extends some protection rights to people you have not invited or allowed to be on your land, such as trespassers.
Your duty of care under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 does not apply towards people exercising Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW) access rights. Find guidance about CROW rights on the Natural England website.
Find more information in the guides on public rights of way and common land.
If an animal injures somebody or causes damage, you may be liable under the Animals Act 1971. If you have fields that are accessible by the public and have livestock normally in them, you must make sure:
- that you do not keep bulls in fields with footpaths
- that if you keep beef stock bulls in such fields, that they are accompanied by female stock and you put up suitable warning signs
- that you assess the temperament of any cattle kept in fields with public access, and remove from the group any that may be aggressive
As a farmer, you have a responsibility to ensure that you do not inadvertently spread disease from your farm to humans, livestock or plants. This means you must observe strict hygiene and health standards when storing, transporting or disposing of animal and plant matter. You must also report any incidents to the proper authorities, and strictly follow their instructions in the event of any disease outbreaks.
If you open your farm up to the general public, you have certain responsibilities under health and safety law. For example, you must take steps to protect people from harmful micro-organisms such as E-coli O157.
There are legal prohibitions on children under the age of 13 driving vehicles and machines for agricultural operations, and on children riding on machines, vehicles and farm implements. Older children of school age and above may undertake some of these activities subject to conditions.
You should not obstruct a public highway or do anything that could cause inconvenience or danger to the public. This includes leaving compost, dung, rubbish or mud on a carriageway.
Your farm should also include reflective road signs to direct traffic when it comes onto your farm. Hedges, trees and shrubs should all be maintained to avoid any danger to the visiting public, and you must ensure that any ditches have proper drainage.
When using pesticides, you must take reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment. Any queries about the use of pesticides on your farm should be directed to the HSE.
It is your responsibility to ensure that the general public is not affected by any chemical drift from spraying operations on your farm. Find information on using Plant Protection Products on the HSE website.
Accidents and emergencies on farms
Accidents with farming vehicles and machinery aren’t the only causes of injuries and fatalities. Falls from or through fragile roofs are common.
As it is vitally important to administer first aid as quickly as possible after an accident occurs, you are advised to have some members of staff trained in first aid.
Certain accidents and incidents have to be reported by law. You can find out about reporting accidents and incidents on the HSE website.
As back and muscle problems can be a major problem in the farming industry, you should make yourself aware of the main causes of these injuries and how they can be avoided. Download a booklet on manual handling solutions from the HSE website (PDF, 230K).
Lifting and handling
Many farming items are very heavy and difficult to move without assistance. Bales of hay, feed bags and other items should be moved by mechanical means where possible - eg using a forklift that is operated by a properly trained person.
It is also your responsibility to ensure that seat belts or lap straps are used when operating lifting equipment such as forklifts or telescopic handlers when working with raised loads. This is especially important when working on any sloping or rough terrain on your farm. Where there is the possibility of equipment rollover, belts or straps are essential.
The proper handling of bales or other heavy objects using safe lifting techniques should ensure that back injury is minimised.
For information on lifting techniques, see the HSE’s guide on how to ensure employees’ safety when lifting and carrying.
Preventing falls on the farm
Falls from height are the second highest cause of deaths and major injuries in agriculture. You must make sure that all work at height is properly planned, supervised and carried out by people who are competent to do the job. You should only use suitable and well-maintained access equipment.
The key issues are:
- working on roofs - roof work on or near fragile materials should be avoided. You should also plan to ensure the right equipment, suitable weather conditions and enough time are available to do the task safely
- stacking and loading - a falling stack of bales can be extremely dangerous. You should make sure that staff are properly trained and adequate equipment is used to secure bales while stacking
- ladders - these can easily slip, and there is an extra danger if they lean against a fragile surface. If there is any alternative, such as a temporary work platform or scaffolding, consider using it. You should never undertake long-term planned work at height using ladders
SHAD Information Line
01752 276 315
08459 33 55 77