Students face up to farming’s fatal dangers and mental health risks

Students were shown the potential dangers of a farming career during a health and safety course at E

Students were shown the potential dangers of a farming career during a health and safety course at Easton and Otley College. Picture: Helen Reeve - Credit: Helen Reeve

The perils of working in one of the UK's most dangerous and isolating careers were brought home to students during a training session aimed at reducing farming fatalities.

According to Health and Safety Executive figures, nine people have been killed in agricultural accidents in the East of England during the last five years – a tragic toll which rose again this week when a 79-year-old man died after falling into a silo on a farm near Eye, in Suffolk, last night.

In a bid to reduce agriculture's appalling accident statistics, Easton and Otley College hosted a half-day health and safety course, developed in conjunction with the Farm Safety Foundation and sponsored by the Chadacre Trust.

College tutors and experts from rural insurer NFU Mutual guided about 60 students and apprentices through mock-ups of dangerous scenarios which they could encounter on farms – and advised how to prevent them happening.

They included 'safe stop' procedures for tractors, an emergency in a livestock pen, and accidents involving overhead electricity cables and power take-off guards.

Helen Reeve, a work-based learning assessor and lecturer at the college, said: 'If we can instil the need for health and safety awareness in this generation I am confident it will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

'The industry as a whole is not very good at promoting health and safety. We have got a lot to do to make the image better but if we can get our apprentices and young agriculture students to think about it early, then the more accidents we can hopefully prevent.'

The training on Wednesday also focused on mental health awareness, as it took place during the Farm Safety Foundation's second annual Mind Your Head campaign, running from February 11-15.

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Recent research by the charity suggests that 81pc of farmers under 40 believe that mental health is the biggest hidden problem facing farmers today and 92pc believe that promoting good mental health is crucial if lives are to be saved and farmers kept safe.

Stephanie Berkeley, who leads the Farm Safety Foundation said: 'This year we are mounting the week-long campaign in the run up to one of the biggest and possibly most stressful events facing the industry – Brexit.

'In previous times of stress such as the BSE crisis in 1986 and the outbreak of Foot and Mouth in 2001, there was a sharp increase in the number of farmer suicides as farm incomes declined. Learning from past experiences we need to be prepared to support our farmers through this time and this is what we are great at, as an industry.

'This year we will also put a special focus on building personal resilience for farmers at this critical time. As an industry, we have a collective responsibility to do something about the issue of poor mental health and the risk of suicide and we believe that every one of us has a role to play.'

• For more information on the Mind Your Head campaign, see the Yellow Wellies website.