Stress and fatigue have been identified as key causes of agricultural accidents by researchers from the University of Aberdeen in the UK.

The NTSAg group researches the role of non-technical skills in farming and 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 contributing factor in farming accidents.

Agriculture is the most dangerous industry in the UK, measured by fatality and injury rate, and, according to the HSE UK, farm deaths rose by 60% this year to a total of 34 fatalities, significantly higher than the five-year average.

Negative impacts

Researcher Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone 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.

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.

Other lapses in situation awareness were described at the ‘comprehension’ level, in the form of an incorrect or incomplete understanding of the situation, such as misjudging the size of a vehicle.

Change of equipment

Some of these incidents were attributed to a recent change in equipment or machinery, or over-familiarity with existing equipment.

Tone explains: “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.”