Farming News - Be prepared as Covid brings extra challenges this harvest time

Be prepared as Covid brings extra challenges this harvest time

11 Jun 2020
Frontdesk / Arable / Machinery
  • 2020 harvest brings challenges of working safely under COVID-19 precautions
  • Dry weather heightens fire risk
  • More farmers’ children at home on farms because of Coronavirus disruption
  • Checklist provides safe working information to protect farmers, staff and children

Leading rural insurer NFU Mutual, has launched a checklist to help farmers keep themselves, their families and workers safe through what could be one of the most challenging harvests since the Second World War.

“Harvest time can be one of the most dangerous periods of the farming year,” said Ian Jewitt, Managing Director of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd, which runs pre-harvest safety courses.

 “Safety is critical during harvest. Figures published by the Health and Safety Executive show 39 people were killed as a result of farming and other agriculture-related activities last year. Overturning vehicles - or being struck by moving vehicles – caused most deaths.

“It’s a sobering fact that agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury of the main industry sectors - it is eighteen times as high as the average rate across all industries.

 “This year, the additional challenges of working with COVID-19 restrictions, inexperienced staff perhaps working on farms for the first time and recent very dry conditions have combined to present an even bigger challenge than normal for the nation’s farmers.

“A major concern this year is that the COVID-19 pandemic means that childcare and school arrangements for many farming families have been disrupted and younger and school age children could be on farms during the very busy harvest period. Tragically, two children were among last year’s farming death toll.

“Fire is another major threat during harvest – particularly during drought conditions.  NFU Mutual claims figures show that the cost of farm fires in the UK hit a four-year peak at £46.4m in 2018 – largely due to the year’s hot dry summer.”

The increased scale of farm fires has prompted a call to farmers to check their fire prevention methods and evacuation procedures.

“To protect themselves and their workforces, we have compiled a safety checklist to help farmers plan a safe and smooth harvest. We also offer a pre-harvest training package for farmers to deliver to their employees, with discounts available to qualifying farming union members. To find out more, call 0800 132029.”

NFU Mutual Harvest Safety Checklist

 Before harvest

  • Put in place arrangements to enable social distancing, provision of PPE and regular hand washing to protect against COVID-19.
  • Check your tractors, trailers, combines, balers and other harvest equipment, making sure they are safe, roadworthy and that you are up to date with maintenance schedules.
  • Train your staff, especially new staff, to ensure they are aware of all safety hazards, emergency procedures and company and highway rules, especially in relation to harvest risks.
  • Share detailed field and yard plans with staff and contractors, showing all risks and land features such as location of overhead powerlines, steep gradients, public rights of way, obscured field entrances, ditches etc.
  • Remind staff to follow SAFE STOP before leaving cabs, ensuring parts have stopped before clearing blockages or carrying out maintenance, and to wear seat belts at all times, whether on highways or in fields / yards.

During harvest

  • Regularly check that everyone complies with COVID-19 safety measures and other safety rules.
  • Carry out daily vehicle/ machinery safety checks, regularly clean out dust and chaff from hot spots e.g. in combines and balers.
  • Continue to remind staff to always practice SAFE STOP.
  • In very dry conditions, keep a bowser filled with water on hand, and be prepared to create a fire break in the event of a crop fire.
  • Remind staff to keep well-hydrated, take sufficient rest breaks and monitor for fatigue, stress and mental ill health symptoms. Look after and check in on lone workers.

In the yard 

  • Minimise non-essential visitors or contractors on site where possible and agree how you will manage social distancing etc. for those who need to be there.
  • Instruct drivers to keep to safe speeds in the yard and segregate pedestrians from vehicles where possible.
  • Keep children away from working areas.
  • Regularly clean dust from grain dryers and ensure that staff are fully trained and know what to do if a fire breaks out.
  • Make sure ladders and platforms are in good condition and a safe system of work is in operation for all work at height and other higher risk tasks (e.g. confined space entry).

NFU Mutual has also launched a free Coronavirus safety service to help farmers with information to protect themselves and farm workers from COVID-19. More information about safe working during the coronavirus outbreak and free online resources are available from NFU Mutual’s website: www.nfumutual.co.uk/business-service or to find out more about Harvest Safety courses call 0800 132029.

Information about farm safety and mental health is also available from the Farm Safety Foundation, founded and funded by NFU Mutual. Visit www.yellowwellies.org  or follow @yellowwelliesuk on Twitter to support the campaign.