Stress, tiredness key factors in poultry farming accidents

03-08-2021 | |
Research into farm accidents found that key issue linked to fatalities were rushing (74%), tiredness (69%), working alone (60%), lack of training (52%) and long hours (52%). Photo: Koos Groenewold
Research into farm accidents found that key issue linked to fatalities were rushing (74%), tiredness (69%), working alone (60%), lack of training (52%) and long hours (52%). Photo: Koos Groenewold

Agriculture remains the most dangerous profession in the UK with 34 people dying in the past financial year – a rise of 60%.

Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive showed that 142 deaths were recorded across the main industry sectors, with construction and agriculture accounting for more than half the deaths.

A number of the deaths in agriculture were among workers aged 60 or over and some were self-employed. The main kinds of fatal accidents for worker were falls from a height (35), being struck by a moving vehicle (25), struck by a moving object (17), becoming trapped by something collapsing or overturning (14) or coming into contact with moving machinery.

Sunrise Egg Farm death

The number of farming deaths has continued this year with more than 8 lives having being lost on farms since 1 April 2021. One of the deaths this year was a teenager who died at Sunrise Egg Farm in Sileby, Leicestershire, in April.

Poultry dust

The Health and Safety Executive noted guidance earlier this year about the dangers of dust in poultry units. Poultry dust is a mixture of bird feed, bedding material (e.g., wood shavings/shreds or straw), bird droppings, feathers and dander (dead skin), dust mites and storage mites, and micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi (moulds) and endotoxins (cell wall components of bacteria).

Poultry workers exposure to poultry dust can be substantial…

The HSE said producers needed to be aware that respiratory diseases was a major occupational health risk for people working in agriculture. The number of occupational asthma cases is double the national average. Studies have shown that poultry workers exposure to poultry dust can be substantial. Local authorities are beginning to take this seriously. Herefordshire Council, which has one of the largest concentrations of intensive poultry units in the UK, said it may run an investigation, noting the high prevalence of respiratory symptoms in poultry farm workers.


Recent research has shown that tiredness and fatigue play a key role in farm incidents. Eleanor Sanger, Farm Safety Foundation coordinator, said the organisation had been working with the University of Aberdeen to look at the risks in agriculture. Speaking at a Farm Safety Week webinar on ‘Fatigue and Farming’ Sanger said research had been conducted earlier this year with 95 farmers about why deaths in the sector were so prevalent.

58% said they took risks…

Key issue linked to fatalities were rushing (74%), tiredness (69%), working alone (60%), lack of training (52%) and long hours (52%). As a result, 58% said they took risks and 44% said they had seen people take risks.

Tiredness, the research found, led to gates not being shut, meaning that animals were let loose; agricultural machinery was not checked; farmers fell asleep at the wheel of tractors and farm safety guidance was not followed. Among the pieces of advice given by farmers to combat fatigue were:
• Start earlier to avoid running out of time at the end of the day
• Plan better
• Take a break even if just 5 minutes
• Write a checklist of jobs to do
• Avoid working long hours
• Ensure proper training was in place

Guidance on mental wellness

The Farm Safety Foundation then asked its 26,000 Twitter followers for thoughts. Among the guidance was to eat well and cut out alcohol during lambing, harvesting or calving; stay hydrated; and, walk in the countryside, embrace nature and spend time doing nothing.

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Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone, a PHD student at the University of Aberdeen’s School of Psychology, interviewed 15 farmers from Ireland and the UK. 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. “We consistently found that farmers’ stress and fatigues 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. Our findings extend our knowledge to establish a link between stress and fatigues and situation awareness.”

Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist