‘Agriculture needs you in one intact piece’ – Michael Smith

In this blog post, farmer, doctor, Future Farmer and Yorkshire Agricultural Society trustee, Michael Smith, offers an important perspective on making farm safety a priority.

I am rare breed of farmer/doctor. I farm with my aunt on a traditional 250-acre mixed farm with a small suckler herd, sheep, cereals, and Clydesdales.

I am also a part time Emergency Medicine (A&E) Consultant, having previously worked across most of Yorkshire, have done Pre-Hospital Helicopter work in London and Sydney, and taught pragmatic medicine to RAF Search and Rescue crews.

I am therefore in a unique position to see and understand the links between food and health, and a clear perspective on the importance and difficulties of safe working and of the mental and physical health of those working in agriculture and allied industries.

It probably comes as no surprise that I am passionate about the health and safety of our industry.

Over the years I have seen farmers drown in ponds, who’ve run over their own children, got wrapped into conveyors, or tried to take their own lives.

This is alongside a steady stream of machinery related hand injuries, slip or fall limb injuries and livestock related crush injuries.

Dangerous shortcuts

The pressures of agriculture are as real as the tragedies that go with it.

The unpredictable nature and weather, long hours, time and financial pressures sometimes lead to shortcuts, errors and tiredness.

We farm in uncertain circumstances amid safety legislation and rules that are sometimes considered impractical, prescriptive and expensive.

We can argue, as I would, having looked into the eyes of those left behind, that the cost is worth it – but the reality is that food is too cheap at the farm gate and agricultural enterprises rarely know the financial endpoint when they start.

Correlations with the safety record in construction are therefore unfair.

A construction quote will have the cost of safety factored in.

Even a small NHS project quote will make your eyes water even more than the cost of a new combine, and a banksman for every telehandler movement on farm is just not financially possible.

Whilst there are clearly some themes in fatalities – livestock, falls from height, struck by objects/moving vehicles, and machinery contact – we must not forget the enormous impact of non-fatal injuries on our ability to work and farm, and the impact on those around us.

I think we need to concentrate on interventions that make the biggest impact.

For me this is education/sharing best practice (something the Yorkshire Agricultural Society actively supports), a change to culture, and a fair price to allow for investment in simple changes – a person basket, a decent cattle crush, ATV helmets, PTO guards, and trailer and brake maintenance.

Most importantly, I ask you to briefly stop and think before you do something.

Ask yourself – Is this the right way to do this? Is there a better way? Are any children safe and supervised?

Look after yourself

The impact of not taking a split-second extra can be life changing or life extinguishing.

Either of those options will not make your day any easier.

Agriculture needs you in one intact piece; people need to be fed.

I hope that one day the enormous impact of agriculture on health, in the widest sense, is recognised and appreciated.

As the work and pressure builds up as we wait for “summer” weather – look after yourselves and always remember to come home safe.

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