Thursday, 6 June 2013


I've been farm-sitting this past week, looking after a herd of sixty cows and their calves, six bulls, a flock of chickens, two horses and two shetland ponies. It's been a lot easier than it sounds, as at this time of year most of the animals are contentedly out to grass. Staying on the farm reminded me of this amazing yet terrifying British public information film from the 1970s, which warns children about the dangers of farmyards through a series of grisly deaths, about which the adults are eerily unperturbed.

Made in 1977, Apaches shows us a group of children who, Final Destination style, meet their unique and untimely ends in different configurations of farm machinery. Perhaps unsurprisingly, agriculture has one of the worst safety records of all occupations in the UK. Although fewer than 1.5% of the UK population are employed in agriculture, a huge 15-20% of all fatal workplace accidents occur in farming - making it the the sector with the highest fatal incident rate. On average, one person dies in the UK from injuries sustained in the agricultural sector every week. Of these, around 5% are children.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, last year the main causes of death on farms was:
  • transport (being run over or vehicle overturns) - accounting for 26% of fatalities
  • falling from a height (through fragile roofs, trees etc) - 16%
  • struck by moving or falling objects (bales, trees etc) - 16%
  • asphyxiation/drowning - 10%
  • livestock-related fatalities - 10%
  • contact with machinery - 8%
  • trapped by something collapsing or overturning - 6%
  • contact with electricity - 3%
In 2011-2012, 41 agricultural deaths were reported to the HSE - none of which were children. That's not the highest number of injuries overall (that dubious honor goes to construction) but it's the highest incidence rate (meaning that the number of people working in the sector are taken into consideration). Six of these deaths were members of the public, and 35 farm workers. You can read the reports of their deaths on the HSE link above. It's sombre stuff, and a reminder that the Apaches scenarios - apart from the uncaring parents - are not particularly out of the ordinary.