How you can take care to avoid accidents at work

At least four people will be killed at work in Norfolk and Suffolk in the coming year, based on recent statistics. What's more, another 750 will suffer major injuries and 3,440 will have to take time off work.

In the first of an occasional series, Malcolm Crowther of the Health and Safety Executive says that death and serious injury on the farm can be prevented with a few common-sense precautions.

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At least four people will be killed at work in Norfolk and Suffolk in the coming year, based on recent statistics.

What's more, another 750 will suffer major injuries and 3,440 will have to take time off work. Add to that the effect on individuals and families, plus the cost to the economy, and the case for change is clear.

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The sad fact is that this record could be improved dramatically if employers and staff consistently applied proper precautions and methods of working.

It may sound obvious, but the figures show that so often this is not the case.

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The excuse that time and financial constraints stopped people from doing anything about the risks is unacceptable, especially when set against the true cost.

Casualties occur right across the work spectrum but one area in which the figures stubbornly show little change is agriculture, a major activity in this part of the country.

Large items of kit pose fairly obvious risks; grain dust may not, but all demand special care.

Take combine harvesters. These needs to be kept clear of blockages, but so often operators give in to the temptation of performing maintenance procedures without safely isolating the dangerous moving parts.

A simple act, but one that could save people from serious injury or even death.

Big round balers pose similar risks. However, every year we get fatal and serious accidents, often ending in amputations, as operators are pulled into the machinery when trying to clear blockages or working on the twine threading mechanism. Again, just taking a few moments to switch off would prevent this.

If it becomes necessary to stop to do some maintenance there is another hazard lurking in the form of overhead power lines.

It may sound obvious to just take a look and make sure you're not about to tip a trailer under or near such a line, yet people fail to do so, with tragic consequences.

Grain dust may be a less obvious risk but it can cause asthma, bronchitis and grain fever and lead to the potentially fatal disease of farmer's lung.

However, straightforward action such as using machinery equipped with suitable cabs, covering grain conveyors and wearing suitable respiratory protection can reduce the problem.

Returning to the dangers involved in baling, it isn't just the machinery that poses a risk.

We see a whole series of accidents linked to the handling and stacking of bales.

People fall off machines used for stacking or from the bales, while the bales often fall on to people.

Electrocution is again a hazard because workers will insist on building stacks where they shouldn't; and, of course, there are all the bad backs and strained muscles caused by bad handling techniques plus the risk of respiratory disease from the duct.

Stacking requires skill. Everyone involved in bale-stacking work should know about safe techniques or be supervised directly by someone who does; be aware of the dangers and precautions; understand procedures for the work and what to do in an emergency; be properly trained in how to use machinery and equipment safely; and be fit for the work and wear suitable protective equipment.

These are just a few examples of the many ways that people manage to expose themselves to danger at work.

But this need not be the case. The thing I would always stress is that help is there for any employer or worker who has a problem.

The HSE is often thought of as just an enforcement agency and, of course, that role is important.

However, we would much rather be giving help and advice than investigating yet another distressing accident.

If you have health and safety worries, you can get advice and help by e-mailing hse.infoline@ natbrit.

com, by visiting uk, or by calling 01603 828000.

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