New research shows stress and tiredness ‘key factors’ in farming accidents

Stress and fatigue have been identified as a key cause of agricultural accidents by researchers from the University of Aberdeen.  

combining at night farm safety

A team from the University have been researching the role of non-technical skills in farming and in this project investigated ‘situation awareness’, broadly defined as ‘knowing what is happening around you.’ They found that lapses in situation awareness, related to stress and fatigue, were a main contributory factor in farming accidents.

This project is the first to look at the impact of stress and fatigue on situation awareness and safety in agriculture. The research is being published shortly after the latest statistics from HSE show farm deaths rose by 60 percent this year to a total of 34 fatalities, significantly higher than the five-year average.

Agriculture is the most dangerous industry in the UK, measured by fatality and injury rate, and it is hoped that proper research into the risks associated with the industry may help protect lives in the future.

The team will present their findings as part of Farm Safety Week in a fatigue in farming webinar with the Farm Safety Foundation on Tuesday, 20th July.

As part of the research Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone from the University interviewed 15 farmers from Ireland and the United Kingdom. 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.

The results showed that situation awareness lapses were present in all accidents and incidents reported and that many lapses occurred at the ‘perception’ level, such as a failure to notice something.  “We found consistently that farmers’ stress and fatigue can negatively affect their mental picture of what is going on which leads to accidents and incidents.”

Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone explains: “We wanted to find out what the sources of stress and fatigue in farming are and how these factors might influence farmer safety. Moreover, we wanted to explore the link between stress and fatigue, situation awareness lapses and safety in farmers – something that no one has looked at until now.

“We found consistently that farmers’ stress and fatigue 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 and our findings extend our knowledge to establish a link between stress and fatigue and situation awareness.”

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