The Human Factor in Agriculture

The Human Factor in Agriculture

Agriculture is currently the most high risk occupation in the UK, associated with a fatality rate that is 18 times higher than the average rate across all industries (as reported by the HSE) including construction.  The fatality rate across agriculture has been consistently high for the past ten years, despite efforts by organisations such as the HSE and IOSH rural to enhance worker safety.  Farm hazards include working at height, operating heavy machinery (including tractors and combines) and handling livestock.  Farming is also associated with long hours, a high level of stress and lone working, all of which could potentially increase risk level.

Dr Amy Irwin and her team (including PhD student Ilinca-Ruxandra Tone) have been conducting behavioural research examining safety critical skills in farming since 2015.  The aim of this research is to understand the skills necessary for safe and effective farm practice (including social skills such as teamwork and cognitive skills such as decision-making), and to produce practical tools and training aids to enhance the development of these skills in farmers and farm workers.

The research has been shared with key agricultural stakeholders such as IOSH rural, the Farm Safety Foundation, Lantra and the NFU, with multiple collaborations as a result.  To date the research has lead to the development of an online course hosted by Lantra, a tractor checklist, a pocket guide to safety and multiple safety leaflets.  You can view, and download, all of these tools and more via our dedicated NTSAG webpage:, follow us on twitter @NTS_Ag or find out more about our various projects via the media links below.


University of Aberdeen: 

Lantra non-technical skills online course:

Farmers Guardian article:

BBC News:

Press and Journal article:

IOSH presentation:


Irwin, A., Caruso, L., & Tone, I. (2019). Thinking ahead of the tractor: driver safety and situation awareness. Journal of Agromedicine, 288-297.

Irwin, A. & Poots, J. (2018). Investigation of UK farmer go / no-go decisions in response to tractor-based risk scenarios. Journal of Agromedicine, 23, 154-165.

Irwin, A. & Poots, J. (2017). Predictors of attitudes towards non-technical skills in farming. Journal of Agromedicine. DOI: 10.1080/1059924X.2017.1384775

Irwin, A. & Poots, J. (2015). The human factor in agriculture: an interview study to identify farmers' non-technical skills. Safety Science, 74, 114-121. DOI: 10.1016/j.ssci.2014.12.008