Occupational health and safety trends in agriculture

In 2008, the Lithuanian University of Agriculture conducted a survey analysing occupational health and safety in agricultural companies during 2003–2007. The survey sought to deliver recommendations on likely measures for improving occupational health and safety. While the number of fatal and serious accidents at work dropped in parallel with the decreasing number of farms and agricultural workers, the number of minor occupational accidents grew within this period.

Aim of survey and methodology

In 2008, at the request of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour (Socialinės apsaugos ir darbo ministerija, SADM), the Lithuanian University of Agriculture (Lietuvos žemės ūkio universitetas, LZUU) conducted a survey seeking to analyse occupational safety and health measures in agricultural companies and enterprises in Lithuania during the period 2003–2007. The survey also sought to issue recommendations on likely preventive measures for improving occupational health and safety. In particular, it analysed the situation regarding agricultural enterprises’ compliance with occupational health and safety requirements, as laid down in Lithuania’s labour legislation; this included the provision of information, instruction, the training of employees and other issues.

The survey relied on data collected by Lithuanian Statistics (Statistikos departamentas prie Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybės, STD) and the State Labour Inspectorate (Valstybinė darbo inspekcija, VDI) for the period 2003–2007. It also referred to an expert poll of executives of agricultural companies, along with their authorised persons and farmers.

Main findings of survey

Number of workers and farms

In 2007, there were about 21,500 permanent workers and 900 temporary workers employed in Lithuanian agricultural companies. In addition, some 6,800 permanent workers and 2,200 temporary employees were working in family-owned farm holdings whose health and safety were regulated by national legislation. Moreover, there were around 225,000 farmers and family farm holdings with some 450,000 farming persons and their family members in Lithuania in 2007.

The analysis of statistical data demonstrated that the number of farms dropped by about 15% in 2003–2007 – that is, in total numbers, from 272,000 to 230,000 farms. This decrease was accompanied by a decline in the number of agricultural workers, which fell by about 12% – corresponding to a decrease in total numbers from 545,000 to 481,000 agricultural workers.

Rate of occupational accidents

A substantial decrease of 70% was observed in the number of fatal occupational accidents in agriculture during the period in question (see figure below). However, although the number of fatal and serious accidents in agriculture dropped in 2003–2007, the number of minor occupational accidents increased by 38% during this period – that is, from 63 such accidents in 2003 to 87 accidents in 2007.

Number of occupational accidents in agricultural enterprises, by type of accident, 2003–2007

Number of occupational accidents in agricultural enterprises, by type of accident, 2003–2007

Source: LZUU survey, 2008

Number of occupational accidents in agricultural enterprises, by type of accident, 2003–2007

Profile of victims

The analysis of statistical data found that most occupational accidents in agriculture were recorded in relation to men. In 2007, men accounted for about 67% of total workplace accidents in agriculture, while women accounted for 33% of such accidents. In addition, the analysis showed that workers with low levels of experience accounted for a considerable proportion of accidents at work. According to VDI, almost one third (29%) of all occupational accidents were experienced by workers with less than one year’s experience in 2007.

Reason for increase in minor accidents

The increase in the number of minor occupational accidents over the period 2003–2007 was largely determined by the fact that, due to the shortage of workers in rural areas, farmers had to hire unqualified workers without similar work skills for temporary jobs. This has considerably increased the risk of minor accidents at work.

Results of poll

The poll of agricultural company executives and farmers revealed that nearly three quarters (73%) of agricultural employers were attested in the area of safety and health and assume responsibility for the organisation of safety and health measures in their activities. However, only one tenth of the health and safety professionals employed in agricultural enterprises were suitably competent in this area. Moreover, a very small proportion of about 3% of farms hired external licensed health and safety professionals for the assessment of occupational risks and electricity-handling facilities. The poll also found that the functions of organising occupational health and safety measures were far better implemented by agricultural companies, while farmers’ holdings organised only between 37% and 89% of the measures deemed legally obligatory.

Rasa Zabarauskaite and Inga Blažiene, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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