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Top ten “stupid and irresponsible acts” which could have added to farming’s death toll

PUBLISHED: 14:35 16 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:48 17 May 2017

A combine harvester at work in north Norfolk. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

A combine harvester at work in north Norfolk. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY


The continuing death toll on British farms has prompted a Norfolk farming consultant to reveal his top ten list of “stupid and irresponsible acts” in a bid to prevent further tragedies.

Reported fatalities in UK agriculture. Source: Health and Safety Executive. Graphic: Rob McVicarReported fatalities in UK agriculture. Source: Health and Safety Executive. Graphic: Rob McVicar

Health and Safety Executive figures show that 21 people were killed on UK farms between April 2016 and March 2017.

Robin Limb, an independent agricultural consultant based in Hunstanton, said the fatality figures should serve as a “wake-up call” to the industry, as he recalled the potentially life-threatening acts of his youth.

“The challenge for farming is that the shocking lack of health and safety awareness seems deeply ingrained within the industry culture,” he said. “The only reason I can comment with some vague authority on these matters is that, as a young farmer, I tried on many occasions to kill myself, but still somehow managed to survive beyond the age of 21. As with most things in life you need to witness what can happen with your own eyes, before the message finally hits home.

“I take no pleasure in recounting these events, and still have occasional nightmares about them. The seriousness of the situation is that everyone involved in the farming industry needs to wake up to the fact that agriculture is now officially the most dangerous occupation to work in – a claim which the construction industry used to hold, until it got its act together.

Agricultural consultant Robin LimbAgricultural consultant Robin Limb

“The deaths on UK farms, so far this year, represent lives gone forever; scores of families torn apart; friendship groups missing key individuals; and farming businesses without workers or leaders. We have to get to grips with this farming safety crisis before there is yet more unimaginable suffering and carnage.”


1. Jumping off moving machinery

2. Climbing on old asbestos roofs

3. Entering grain bins with a risk of carbon dioxide poisoning

4. Climbing straw stacks and falling from height

5. Releasing trailer brakes and then running to jump onto a moving tractor just in time to stop it hitting a wall

6. Driving the combine under a low-hanging shed and narrowly avoiding being decapitated

7. Attempting to adjust a sugar beet harvester with the power-take-off still engaged

8. Almost getting dragged into a moving combine header by my wrist watch

9. Nearly getting asphyxiated by slurry gases in a confined space

10. Coming into contact with a 415 volt three-phase supply because it was not isolated


The Farm Safety Partnership brings together a range of agricultural organisations to discuss how to co-ordinate safety awareness on farms.

It is chaired by Guy Smith, who is also vice president of the National Farmers’ Union and chairman of the Norfolk Farming Conference.

“We are on track for an increase in deaths on farm this year, which is very depressing and worrying,” he said. “I am quite clear about this, that our industry has a shameful safety record. We kill and maim ourselves through carelessness and taking shortcuts. If we changed a few simple things we could half that number.

“The classic one is getting out of a tractor when it is still running – or even worse, when the implement on the back is still engaged. Another one is working from height. These are big issues in the eastern region, but elsewhere it is handling livestock, where getting into enclosed spaces with large animals can be a problem.

“One thing I often hear from farmers is it is just the nature of the job, and farms are not controlled workplaces like a manufacturing line but, while that’s true, the construction industry in the last 20 years has reduced its fatalities enormously and farming has not.

“With a little bit of thought and preparedness, these accidents can be avoided.”

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