Safe Maintenance in Agriculture
´Agriculture is one of the most hazardous sectors in terms of work-related accidents. Agricultural workers suffer 1.7 times the average rate of non-fatal occupational accidents and three times the rate of fatal accidents.
In the EU27, family work and a large degree of self-employment predominate in the agricultural industry, as most work on farms is done by the farm owner and his or her family. Nine out of ten people working on farms (89 %) are family labour force . In 2007 about 78 % of farmers worked alone with assistance from family members and occasional help from employees brought in at peak times .
Agriculture is a sector that has a higher proportion of workers on temporary contracts (43.9 %), compared to an average of 16.7 % for all sectors, and the highest proportion of employees working without contracts (24 %) .
Agriculture is also characterised by relatively high levels of unskilled work. Educational levels are relatively low; most workers in the sector have lower levels of education or no education at all . The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK reported that in 2000, 22 % of managers in agriculture had completed either basic or full agricultural training, but the majority had only practical experience. This is especially true for those working on smallholdings .
Typically, the agriculture sector employs seasonal workers and contractors during busy periods (for ploughing or harvesting). Contractors are often used for particularly hazardous jobs such as cleaning or repairing fragile roofs, or cleaning out slurry tanks  and are at greater risk from accidents and disease. In the agriculture sector, seasonal workers are often migrant workers . Lack of awareness of hazards and risks and language difficulties make migrant workers vulnerable to accidents and disease.
Unsafe working conditions.
Table 1. Examples of hazards related to maintenance in agriculture.
Hazards Related to Maintenance in Agriculture
Maintenance activities in agriculture are very diverse. They include maintenance and repair of machines, equipment and vehicles, maintenance of farmyards and buildings, silos, bins, and tanks, maintenance of electrical installations, as well as maintenance of drainage and irrigation systems and roads. Because of the wide variety of maintenance tasks on farms, there are many different hazards involved. Some of them are listed in Table 1.
But there are other factors that contribute to the high number and the severity of the accidents. Farmers often carry out a lot of maintenance work by themselves. This increases the risk of accidents because, on the one hand, the farmer may not have competences in specific maintenance tasks and on the other, machines and vehicles in agriculture are becoming more and more sophisticated, thus requiring qualification in maintenance and repair.
Farming often involves people working on their own. When a blockage occurs or a vehicle breaks down, the repair may be undertaken by a lone worker. Not only does working alone increase the risk of an accident but it also means that in the case of an accident its severity can be amplified as the injured worker may not only be alone but also in a remote location.
Maintenance of equipment containing dangerous substances.
Many farm workers are self-taught. Many have only practical experience and no professional agricultural training. Maintenance work in agriculture involves multiple tasks that are, in many cases, seasonally determined and take place in a variety of locations from the workshop to the farmyard to the field. Agricultural workers involved in maintenance are expected to be able to switch from one type of equipment or tool to another, depending on the needs. This makes professional agricultural training very difficult and as a result most farmers are typically trained ‘on-the-job’.
Financial constraints and considerations can determine the line of action a farmer will take when it comes to maintenance. For example, in order to save money, a farmer may carry out makeshift repairs using substandard components, tools and PPE, and may be reluctant to employ professional maintenance and repair services. Time pressure can lead to the worker carrying out a temporary repair with inappropriate tools and equipment.
Farm workers often do not use personal protective equipment, such as safety harnesses to prevent them from falling through, or from roofs.
What Can Be Done to Make Maintenance Work on Farms Safer?
As activities in maintenance in agriculture are very diverse, so are the risks. Therefore it is essential to employ several different strategies to decrease the likelihood of occurrences. Some efficient methods are listed below.
Prevention through design – eliminating hazards at the design stage
One of the best ways to prevent and control occupational risks related to maintenance is to address them early in the design process of buildings and structures, work environments, materials, and plant (machinery and equipment). Maintainability of the agricultural machinery and vehicles affects maintenance safety and helps minimise the risks of MSDs and it should be considered at the design stage. Good maintainability means among others that all points for routine maintenance are easy to access, such as lubrication points, motor, and battery, servicing and maintenance intervals are longer, etc. Poor maintainability might reduce maintenance safety, it prolongs the tasks, and makes work more complicated, all of which can increase the risk of accidents. Good design can prevent accidents if it is made difficult or impossible to perform a maintenance task incorrectly or in an unsafe way.
Maintenance of machinery nd vehicles
The machine/vehicle must be stopped before any intervention, maintenance or servicing, and it has to be made sure that it has come to rest (run down time should be considered). Parts which could move or rotate must be secured, e.g. by using chocks, props. Manufacturers’ instructions should be followed. Guards have to be replaced before restarting the machine.
Working in confined spaces
Workers on farms may need to enter confined spaces such as moist grain silos, slurry pits or storage bins to carry out maintenance, inspection, cleaning and repair. Dangers can arise because of a lack of oxygen, toxic or flammable gases, liquids and solids that can suddenly fill the space, causing asphyxiation, drowning, fire or explosion. Entering confined spaces should be avoided if possible. If entry is unavoidable, adequate equipment, such as personal protective equipment (e.g. respirators, harnesses and safety lines), lighting (approved to explosive atmospheres) and communications gear should be used and the air must be tested before entering. Adequate emergency arrangements need to be put in place. People who carry out maintenance in confined spaces should have adequate training and experience. Good design, including design of openings, covers and fasteners can improve diagnosis and accessibility for maintenance operations.
Working at height
Maintenance of buildings, structures and machinery on farms may involve working at height. Falls often happen from roofs or through fragile roofs, from vehicles, ladders, and unsuitable access equipment. If working at height cannot be avoided, suitable access equipment must be used, as well as fall arrest safety equipment, for example safety harnesses, if necessary. Buildings that have fragile roofs should be provided with warning signs, particularly at access points. When using ladders, it must be made sure the ladder cannot slip, and that it has a level and firm footing.
Information and training
Information and training are needed to reduce the number and severity of accidents and occupational diseases suffered by farmers and people working on farms. They are, however, difficult to reach because farms are frequently run as family businesses and there are a large number of self-employed in the sector. Farmers are accustomed to deciding for themselves how to carry out their work and deal with problems. They have a tendency to place a high level of trust in their own experience. It is therefore important to involve them and to include their experience in any activities targeted at the improvement occupational safety and health.
Maintenance of buildings, structures and machinery on farms may involve working at height.
In the transport sector, analysis of different health and safety campaigns has shown that drivers can be reached most effectively by means of 
- face-to-face events
- on-site training and advice
- campaign events involving their families.
This is likely to be equally valid for agricultural workers, and a successful strategy to reach this group may be to offer on-site training incorporating practical experiences so that training is relevant to everyday tasks and takes into account farmers’ specific problems. Where possible, information and training should be provided by other farmers (accepted by the farmer), and given on-site where farmers feel comfortable. This approach was adopted the by HSE for their ‘Farm Safety and Health Awareness Days’ (SHAD) in the UK events, and it has received positive feedback from the majority of agricultural workers who have participated in the scheme.
Events such as agricultural fairs or countrywomen’s association meetings may provide a very good opportunity to reach the farmers and their families directly and to motivate them to participate in training by faceto- face promotion. It can be assumed that involving the family may help to reach and motivate more workers.
* More Information
To find out more about safe maintenance in agriculture read the web publication ‘Maintenance in agriculture – a safety and health guide’ available at http://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/ reports/maintenance-inagriculture- a-safety-and-healthguide.
»»References ››1. Eurostat, Agricultural statistics: Main results 2007– 08, Eurostat pocket book, 2009 edition. http://epp. eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ ITY_OFFPUB/KS-ED-09-001/ EN/KS-ED-09-001-EN.PDF. ››2. Eurostat, Farm structure, statistics explained (March 2010). http://epp.eurostat. ec.europa.eu/statistics_ explained/index.php/Farm_ structure. ››3. Eurofound, Factsheet: Agriculture and Fishing, Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2008 ›› http://www.eurofound. europa.eu/pubdocs/2008/141/ en/2/EF08141EN.pdf. ››4. United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive ‘About health and safety in agriculture’, 2010, available at http://www.hse.gov.uk/ agriculture/hsagriculture.htm. ››5. Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland, ‘The guide to health and safety in agriculture’, 2001, available online at http://www. healthandsafetyworksni.gov. uk/the_guide_to_health_ and_safety_in_agriculture-2. pdf. ››6. Eurofound ‘Employment and working conditions of migrant workers’, 2007, p74, available online at http:// www.agri-migration.eu/docs/ employment%20and%20 work%20cond%20eurofund. pdf. ››7. EU-OSHA, ‘Delivering the message – Programmes, initiatives and opportunities to reach drivers and SMEs in the road transport sector’, 2011 http://osha.europa.eu/ en/about/Road-transport/ report_delivering-themessage. pdf.
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