University looks to construction to help lower farming deaths

David Calvert, Shutterstock

THE University of Aberdeen has helped develop a new training course designed specifically for farmers based on non-technical skills from the construction and aviation industries.

Non-technical skills refer to a subset of ‘human factor’ skills such as task management and situation awareness. The university examined such skills in high-risk industries such as construction, offshore drilling and aviation to develop the farming-specific course.

Farming is currently the most dangerous industry in the UK, with 14,000 non-fatal injuries and 39 deaths in Britain during 2018 and 2019. Causes of death remain broadly consistent over the past five years, with being struck by a moving vehicle, injured by an animal and falls from height being the most frequent killers.

Such a consistently high fatality rate has prompted farming organisations and safety professionals to look for a new approach to improve farm safety and ultimately reduce fatalities.

The university said that its research team are the only group currently studying non-technical skills in farming, and thus will create what is the first farmer-specific non-technical skills training course ever developed.

Led by Dr Amy Irwin, the team has studied the accident rate in farming for more than half a decade and have applied their learnings of non-technical skills in other industries to identify which would be the key skills needed for farmers.

Dr Amy Irwin explained, “Non-technical skills fall into two categories – cognitive thinking skills such as decision-making and situation awareness, and social interaction skills such as teamwork and communication. Our research over the years has found that these skills, in conjunction with technical know-how, are key to ensuring safe and effective performance at work.

“Many industries emphasise the importance of non-technical skills, and some, including aviation make it mandatory, however development of these skills has not been addressed in agriculture until now. The current collaboration builds on our strong foundation of research and practical tools to produce an entirely original farmer training programme that mirrors the techniques used to train non-technical skills in aviation and construction.

“We hope that by providing a new, novel, training course in these skills we can turn our research findings into improved safety for farmers.”

Niven Phoenix from KURA, the firm helping develop the course, added, “An evidence-based non-technical skills course for agricultural workers is long overdue. The advent of technology in farming has been astounding with systems and hardware that has advanced out of sync with the training required to manage the increased risk presented.

“We have already seen parallels with our work in the construction industry. It is beset by similar problems that are now being addressed with effective understanding of human fallibility and how we can build systems, processes but more importantly behaviours that protect livelihood, life and limb.

“This is an excellent course that will produce safety dividends for farmers worldwide and it has been a privilege to work with the University combining their rigorous research with our practical aviation application of training. As someone who lost a father to an aviation accident I know that cultures and behaviours are intrinsic to safety. I feel we have ignited a spark that will continue to grow, acting as a catalyst for change and bringing those same aviation safety behaviours into our agriculture industry. One thing is for certain we cannot continue in the same vein in agriculture with statistics that make it a safety lottery when people leave the security of their homes.”