Stress & Fatigue Key Cause of Farming Accidents

Agriculture is the most dangerous industry in the UK, measured by fatality and injury rate, and according to the HSE.

2020-21 names and details of fatalities

Image credit Bell

In Agriculture, forestry and fishing in 2020/21 there were 34 fatal injuries, an increase of 13 from the low of 21 seen in the previous year. The five-year average for fatal injuries in this sector is 28.

Workplace Fatal Injuries in Great Britain 2021

Stress and fatigue have been identified as a key cause of agricultural accidents by researchers from the University of Aberdeen. 

The NTSAg group from the University research the role of non-technical skills in farming and in this project investigated ‘situation awareness’, broadly defined as ‘knowing what is happening around you.’ They found that lapses in situation awareness, related to stress and fatigue, were a main contributory factor in farming accidents.   

This project is the first to look at the impact of stress and fatigue on situation awareness and safety in agriculture. Improving Safety For Farmers

The team will present their findings as part of Farm Safety Week in a fatigue in farming webinar with the Farm Safety Foundation on Tuesday, 20 July.  

‘Failure to notice something’ when tired

In the School of Psychology funded project, Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone interviewed 15 farmers from Ireland and the United Kingdom. They were asked to describe a farming accident when they were tired or stressed followed by several questions about their general experience of stress and fatigue in farming.  

The results showed that situation awareness lapses were present in all accidents and incidents reported and that many lapses occurred at the ‘perception’ level,such as a failure to notice something.  

Other lapses in situation awareness were described at the ‘comprehension’ level in the form of an incorrect or incomplete understanding of the situation, such as misjudging the size of a vehicle. Some of these incidents were attributed to a recent change in equipment or machinery or over-familiarity with existing equipment.  

Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone explains:

“We wanted to find out what the sources of stress and fatigue in farming are and how these factors might influence farmer safety. Moreover, we wanted to explore the link between stress and fatigue, situation awareness lapses and safety in farmers – something that no one has looked at until now.  

“We found consistently that farmers’ stress and fatigue can negatively affect their mental picture of what is going on which leads to accidents and incidents. 

“This is hugely significant given that stress and fatigue are prevalent issues in agriculture, alongside more serious mental health issues and our findings extend our knowledge to establish a link between stress and fatigue and situation awareness.” 

The rate of fatal injury to workers in both Agriculture, forestry and fishing and Waste and recycling remains markedly higher than the average across all industries: around 20 times and 17 times as high respectively.

The rate of fatal injury in Construction, while around 4 times as high as the average rate across all industries, is considerably less than the rate in either Agriculture, forestry and fishing or Waste and recycling, despite accounting for a greater number of cases than these sectors.

Workplace Fatal Injuries in Great Britain 2021

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Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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