Health and Safety in the Agriculture and Food and Drink Sector

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its annual report; Health and Safety at Work, summary statistics for Great Britain 2019, at the end of October 2019.

The report sets out the number of workplace injuries, work related ill health issues, working days lost, enforcement action and associated costs.

The estimated economic cost of work related injury and ill health to the UK economy totalled £15 billion in 2018

The report looks at industry groups and grades them according to risk of injury and work related illness.

Agriculture & Food and drink manufacturing key figures are outlined.

In brief, figures for accidents/injuries/incidents in Agriculture remain high: main areas for improvement are musculoskeletal disorders and areas of risk, such as being struck by a moving vehicle, being injured by an animal and falls from height.  Additionally, more attention should be provided to psychosocial risks relating to working hours and time pressures.

In food and drink manufacturing the main areas of concern surround occupational asthma (main cause listed as flour dust but this may relate to any atmospheric contamination) and overall rates of workplace injuries; the main causes of which were listed as working with machinery and lifting/handling.

It would be recommended that businesses within these sectors, as well as carrying out individual investigations resulting from specific accidents/incidents, also consider trends and levels of risk within different activities and, where reasonably practicable put in place measures to reduce the risks where possible.  


Agriculture remains one of the most high risk sectors of people sustaining an injury while at work, with little improvement in statistics noted since last year.

Main areas are musculoskeletal disorders, fatal accidents and workplace injuries:

  • A key issue for this Agriculture, forestry and fishing sector is musculoskeletal disorders; of an estimated 14,000 work-related ill health cases annually (new or long-standing) around half of these were musculoskeletal disorders.  Around 2.0% of workers suffered from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (new or long-standing cases.) This rate is statistically significantly higher than the rate for workers across All industries (1.2%)
  • In Agriculture, forestry and fishing there were 32 fatal injuries to workers in 2018/19. This is similar to the annual average number of 29 fatalities over the last five years (2014/15 – 2018/19.) Over the same five year period, 25% of deaths were due to being struck by a moving vehicle, 17% being injured by an animal and 16% a fall from height.  The key issue here is that this fatal injury rate (29 per 100,000 workers) remains higher than any other main industry sector, and around five times as high as the rate in Construction and 18 times as high as the All industry rate.
  • In Agriculture, forestry and fishing there were an estimated 14,000 workers each year who sustained an injury at work. Around 1% of workers in this sector sustained a workplace injury.  This is around double the All industries rate, and is statistically significantly higher.

Physical risks were more commonly reported than psychosocial risks although ‘machines or tools’ was the top risk, accidents with machinery account for only about 10% of reported fatal and non-fatal injuries.  The main psychosocial risks related to length/irregularity of working hours and time pressure.

On enforcement it is stated there have been 305 notices issued, 15 prosecution cases brought by the HSE and, in Scotland, and had a verdict reached in 2018/19; of these, 12 resulted in a guilty verdict for at least one offence.  The resulting fines from these prosecutions totalled around £675,000 in 2018/19, with an average fine per case of £56,000*

Food & Drink Manufacturing

Transport and storage sector and the Arts, entertainment, recreation sector  showed no statistically significant difference in reported illness/injuries.  However the manufacturing sector, including within it food services, shows a statistically significant lower number of reported incidents/injuries.  Nevertheless, there are some key areas for concern such as occupational asthma and workplace injuries.

  • Manufacturing of food products had one of the highest rates of annual reported cases of occupational asthma during 2009-2018. Occupations with the highest rates of annual reported cases during the 2009-2018 were Vehicle paint technicians and Bakers and flour confectioners, with flour dust being one of the causes highlighted.
  • Additionally, around 1% of workers in manufacturing, and this rose to 2.4% within food and drink manufacturing sector, sustained a workplace injury which is statistically significantly higher than the rate for workers across All industries (1.8%.)

On an overall assessment, it was found physical risks were more widely reported as being present than psychosocial risks, and this is consistent with the lower lower-than-average levels of stress, depression or anxiety seen in the sector. The most common reported workplace risk was ‘machines or tools’; around one in seven of all fatal injuries in the sector over the last five years were due to contact with machinery and it accounts for over 10% of employer reported non-fatal injuries.  Lifting or moving people or heavy loads was the second most common reported physical risk factor, present in around three-quarters of manufacturing workplaces; lifting/handling is a significant cause of non-fatal injury, accounting for around a quarter of employer reported non-fatal injuries.

On enforcement it is stated there have been 3,274 enforcement notices issued, 105 prosecution cases  brought by HSE and, in Scotland and had a verdict reached in 2018/19; 101 cases (96%) resulted in a guilty verdict for at least one offence.  The resulting fines from these prosecutions totalled around £21M in 2018/19, with an average fine per case of £210,000.*

*New sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences came into force February 2016. A feature of these guidelines is that the fine is related to the turnover of organisations and, as a result, large organisations convicted of offences are receiving larger fines than seen prior to these guidelines.

For further information on health and safety matters please contact Duncan Astill Email: [email protected] or Sarah Vince Email: [email protected] for food related safety matters please contact Jessica Burt Email: [email protected] 

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