A claim was made recently that fatalities involving people over 65 are responsible for more than one third of farm fatalities recorded by the Health and Safety Executive.
As the Executive produces an alarmingly detailed annual report on farm fatalities, indeed on all farm accidents, I don’t doubt that the claim is correct. We might all rage against the dying of the light as the poet said, or more prosaically insist that 60 is the new 40 or that we’re as fit and alert as ever, but common sense has to prevail. I object to the newspaper habit of referring to anyone over 60 as elderly, which is nonsense, but there is no doubt that we move a little more slowly and reflexes and reactions are slower, and accidents more likely to happen as the years pass.
I suspect that most fatalities, and accidents involving over-60s involve livestock. Accidents with machinery tend to happen because of momentary carelessness or youthful rashness, accidents with livestock because animals are unpredictable. Older, semi-retired or retired, family members are also more likely to be called in to help with, say, moving, loading, bedding or routine handling and checking of cattle. As the old road safety TV adverts showed graphically with a hammer and a peach that there was no contest when a vehicle hit a human, so there is no contest when half a tonne and more of beef on the hoof flattens a senior citizen or smashes a gate against them.
As it happens the Health and Safety Executive farm fatality figure of 27 for the year 2013/14 was down two on the previous year and well below the five-year average of 33 deaths.
But that is still a frightening 8.7 fatalities per 100,000 workers compared with other dangerous industries such as construction which had 1.98 fatalities per 100,000.
Taking a more hard-headed view of farm accidents, the insurance company NFU Mutual estimated that they cost the industry a record £25million last year. And there’s the chilling thought that death is bad for all concerned, but that serious injury can be almost as bad.
Time marches on in every way and for those of us who prided ourselves on the straightness of our ploughing and grain drilling relying on skill and eyesight, it’s a salutary thought that global positioning system (GPS) steering has made that skill redundant. So much so that GPS steering was runaway first choice in a survey of recent technical advances in farming with more than one third of the votes because it has made “steering straight lines across fields almost child’s play” and overlapping – or, worse, missed bits showing when grain emerged – has all but disappeared.
Behind the 36% of votes for GPS steering came robotic milking with 19% and smartphones with 13%. Between 2-5% were combine yield meters, devices to detect when cows are ready to mate and driverless tractors.