Women in farming and the agriculture sector: research report

Findings and recommendations from research into the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland.

8 Farm Safety

Key findings

Some women sometimes take risks to prove they are as able to farm as men.

Women expressed the need to have the right equipment to farm safely was discussed ( e.g. suitable size protective clothing, equipment that requires less physical strength to operate safely).

There is a need for further research to look at planning a farmyard for women. This is also relevant to ageing farmers.

Women, especially new entrants, often become the primary farmer when children are small. This raises various issues of farm safety.

The research brief did not ask for this study to consider farm safety. However, it came up early and repeatedly in the qualitative research, a number of questions about safety were asked. There is rich data on farm safety that is too detailed to analyse here. The findings presented here are limited to those relating to this study.

8.1 Qualitative Findings on Farm Safety

Both men and women expressed their perception that women are more safety conscious than men. However, this was not borne out in the examples given. Both men and women take risks on farms. Women sometimes recounted taking risks to 'prove' that they could farm as well as men:

I suppose in a way for me there's...especially with the background of my father him wanting a son and being...I love farming and it is what I want to do but there is that little kind of devil on my shoulder that says you need to prove them wrong. You're a girl and I'm just as...and I am very...when there's a guy on the farm and they're lifting heavy...they say do you want a hand with that? I'm like no I can do it!

It's amazing what you can lift when they offer you help isn't it? [Laughter]

Yeah I'm the same whenever somebody offers me like do you want me to hitch that trailer up for you or whatever, or do you want me to do this for you, do you want me to do that? I'm like no I will do it! Yeah there is almost like a point -

No but with...within the industry and things like that yeah it's...yeah there's definitely something to prove isn't there? # Women in agricultural industry focus group

Um...I don't know to be honest I think...personally I think you know there probably is a bit of a stigma about...like you're a bloke so you do that, but if you're a girl I don't know would you, you know? # New entrant woman Orkney # 11

My big accident I nearly had last year was...and it was part of my own stubbornness and not asking for help, I was carting the grain in and out on the combine and we were putting the winter barley into the bins and my partner was on the combine and I was loading the pits which then...and I was having to check the bins to make sure they weren't over filling and when one bin fills you need to move the shoot that comes out of the top. You have to physically lift it up and this is overhanging a big empty sixty ton bin on your left hand side and you have to move it along and put the shoot to the next bit. Open the hole and this is quite heavy and its quite an awkward...you're hanging out over a big empty bin and its very awkward because it breaks in half as well if you don't hold it properly and I got it off and I was shifting backwards and it came in half and I...and it went into the bin and I - Luckily I didn't [go into the bin] but I gave myself a heck of a fright...but that was a learning curve. I would never do that again. # Women in agricultural industry focus group

Women are trying to disprove gender stereotypes, and this has implications for farm safety. It shows the need in future to plan farm yards for women farmers. As with male farmers, what makes farm safety so critical is that any 'near miss' could have been a fatality.

Women discussed the importance of having the right equipment and infrastructure. When this is in place, they are better equipped to conduct farm work safely;

Because I just think well...there's not someone else about that if something happened, it's not a very safe...environment sometimes. So as well as like technically I could do all that, but sometimes I actually just want another pair of hands. I think that's definitely more so when you're a female. Like he wouldn't bat an eyelid going out himself and just doing it. Yeah I think so, yeah I think women probably think about it, definitely there's a lot of that and I always go on to him because...if we just had the right set up we wouldn't...because there are times, situations that...I think well actually if this gating was all adjusted a little bit I could run that cow from there to there, lock it in the yoke, I don't have to carry a six foot hurdle myself and pin it up, and move dung to get it in the right place. # New entrant woman Orkney # 11

And I'll often say right I'll do the PDA stuff and I've said to him do you know what I could do that quite happily but if you're there and you're going to wrestle with them crack on and do that! And I'll...I don't know just operate the pens. And we're having a bit of a conversation at the moment because we need to upgrade, or we're going to try and put in an application for gates and some handling equipment and I would love what's called a Combi Clamp System so the sheep run up into the Combi Clamp. You can clamp them with your weight and dose them. # Focus group new entrants

It seems that if the right equipment is in place, then women and men, especially older men, can carry out farm work more safely.

The need to give women's farm safety more attention is underscored by the findings in this research that new entrant women become the primary farmer when children are born. Women in this study seem to be combining child-care with full time farm work:

...I was out feeding beasts when she was about a week old! # Young new entrant woman # 1

…she loves the sheep, she loves the sheep,...we do turkeys at Christmas and she loves the turkeys. Her weekends are in the sheep pens being covered in mud from head to toe and she absolutely loves it! # Young new entrant woman #3

And you can't have a child on a tractor under two can you? You're not allowed to have a child on a tractor under two. I was thinking I could just strap the baby on. # Women in agricultural industry focus group

Above are examples of women strapping children to themselves when they do farm work, or letting them into sheep pens. Below, this woman's son is allowed on the tractor with his grandfather, and he could not understand why he could not be on the tractor when he was at the Royal Highland Show. Her son is four years old:

Yeah exactly! I get to drive tractors here! He couldn't understand why at the Highland Show he couldn't get on the tractor to drive it! Because its locked son! You can't get on! You can't get on it! Health and safety son! # Young new entrant women # 5

This woman vet is now the primary farmer, and is juggling three young children with full-time farm work, although the situation she describes relates to the time when she was a mother of two;

Yeah so I used to work full-time yeah until I went on maternity leave with my first girl, and...then I just went back and I actually just do one day a week…We bought in sheep as well ..and then...I was doing that when our second child was little as well. I was also doing that when our third was initially small. So I had a baby and a two year old in the winter, and it would...the baby would go back to sleep just after nine usually and so I would get up in the morning, it sounds terrible, get up in the morning, and they'd be sleeping and I'd literally have bags of feed filled up and then when the baby went back to sleep after breakfast she'd often have a wee nap which I was very lucky or...when the second was little that was the case as well, and then and I would go out and it would be pretty challenging in the winter you know? Yeah! Yeah! Playing in the barley bin and sitting in with me and I would do all the other jobs, forking silage, and bedding calves, and cleaning out things that needed cleaned out so I got very used to working with machinery because I just had to you know? # New entrant woman Orkney # 11

8.2 Concluding Remarks

Farm safety is a very important subject. Every year there are fatalities on farms (29 in Great Britain in 2015/2016, HSE, 2016), and there are constant programmes and interventions to reduce the number of farm accidents and fatalities. This research suggests that there is a need to consider information sharing with women, and increasingly so given the role of new entrant women in farming. Women sometimes take risks to show they are as capable as men. The extent to which this can be offset by having the right equipment needs further consideration. Further research is needed to consider how to plan farm yards for women. This is also relevant for ageing farmers. This research suggests that women combining childcare with farm work seems to be a growing trend. In other words, women retain primary responsibility for child care and farm work. When young tenant farmers have children, we found that women combine full-time farm work with full time child care.

There is an opportunity for education, and also for incentives to ensure farms have the right equipment to enable women to farm. A number of women spoke about the difference appropriate farm equipment makes. The idea of planning a farmyard needs further research and support. Women, especially new entrants, can become the primary farmer when children are small ( e.g. as they stay at home to undertake child care). This raises various farm safety issues.


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