Continuing high numbers of death and serious injuries on farms have led leading rural insurer NFU Mutual to call for farmers and smallholders to take extreme care through this year’s harvest.

“There were more than 40 people killed last year in agricultural accidents and with harvest often the most stressful time of the year for both workforce and machinery, close attention to safety is essential,” said NFU Mutual farm safety specialist Clive Harris.

“Our experience dealing with farm accident claims clearly shows that it’s crucial to make safety top priority for all harvesting operations to avoid accidents which can cause injuries and death - as well as the emotional trauma experienced by all involved”

With the start to this year’s harvest now only a few weeks away, Clive runs through preparations which can help prevent harvest accidents and fires.

Pre-harvest checks · Good preparation, a thorough check-over in conjunction with the normal regular maintenance will minimise mechanical breakdowns and failures. It is quite common for extensive rodent damage to be detected the day the machine is first started-up after being stored.

· Tractors and trailers should be thoroughly checked to ensure they are up to the rigours of harvesting and are roadworthy with particular attention to signals, lights, efficiency of brakes and wear on links, pins and couplings. The BAGMA scheme provides a good code of practice to use as a basis for machinery maintenance.

· Check fire extinguishers are of the correct type, fully charged and in good working order.

· Provide regular and casual harvest staff with training on the correct use of machinery – with particular attention to hazards such as overhead power lines, yard operations and steep slopes.

· Check that field entrances are not obscured, for example by overgrown hedges or long grass.

· NFU Mutual Risk Management Services offers a full range of risk management services to help farmers identify and minimise the risks to their businesses and comply with legislation.

During Harvest · You can never overdo cleaning out dust and chaff from hot spots. This is just as important in difficult weather when dusty crops can lead to high build-ups of debris.

· Resist the urge to keep going when temperature gauges are ‘in the red’ or warning devices are alerting the operator to a problem or fault.

· While clearing blockages or carrying out maintenance ensure machines are switched off and parts have stopped moving – taking short cuts still leads to horrific injuries and deaths.

· Make sure drivers are aware of the locations and heights of power lines and check that the machinery will safely pass under wires and restrictions.

· In very dry conditions, keep a sprayer filled with water on hand attached to a tractor to lay a fire break in the event of a crop fire.

In the yard · Instruct drivers to keep to safe speeds in the grain yard · Check signs are in place to help lorry drivers go to the right place, and alert members of the public to any potential hazards · Ensure children are kept away from working areas · Clean dust regularly from grain dryers – and ensure that all staff running the drier are fully trained and know what to do if fire breaks out.

· Ensure fire extinguishers are readily accessible for all.

· Make sure ladders and platforms used for maintenance are up to the job and a safe system of work is in operation.

“Trailer towing eyes are a classic example of a worn machinery part which can fail causing serious damage and injury with fatal consequences if not professionally replaced when worn,” he said.

“There appears to be an increase in the number of worn tow eyes which have failed when trailers are fully loaded. This can lead to the trailer tipping backwards and the drawbar penetrating the tractor cab with the driver at risk.”