• The largest wellbeing survey of its kind has recently been launched in the farming community in England and Wales by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Instruction (RABI)

    Amongst other aims, RABI’s Big Farming Survey looked to identify the physical and mental wellbeing of those working within the sector. Engagement with the survey has been high, and it is estimated that around 15,500 responses have been received. The findings from the survey will be published this Autumn, but it sparks an interesting dialogue about wellbeing within the sector.

    The impact on farmers mental health and resilience has been highlighted in recent years by the challenges presented by Brexit and COVID-19. Agricultural work often involves long hours and lone working. Adding COVID-19 isolation and the cancellation of many events in the farming calendar to these existing issues has only added to the mounting pressures within the sector.

    Like many business owners, those employing workers in the agricultural sector need to be aware of potential mental health issues amongst their workers. Employers have a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their employees, which includes both physical and mental injuries. Employers must also follow applicable legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulation 1999 (MHSW Regulations). This legislation highlights employer’s responsibilities, including carrying out regular risk assessments, ensuring health and safety policies are up to date and providing relevant training around these areas.

    How can I protect the wellbeing of my workers?

    Promote Wellbeing and Support

    It is important that agricultural workers know what mental health support is available to them, both internally and externally. There are a growing number of support platforms available within the farming sector and organisations such as MIND have resources available online. Focussing on offering guidance and training to workers, will help workers both to understand what options they have for support and will also help employers to maintain a healthy workforce. Employers may want to consider arranging mental health awareness training or appointing mental health first aiders within their business.

    Keep Communication Open

    Clear communication is key. Opening up discussions around mental health and wellbeing is especially important in a sector where there has historically been a culture of remoteness and resilience. Initiatives such as the Big Farming Survey should help to address attitudes within the sector and employers should create an atmosphere where wellbeing can be openly discussed, and feedback is encouraged.

    Employers should make sure they check in regularly with their workers and allow them the opportunity to raise any issues. Regular one to one meetings, even on an informal basis, will allow line managers to identify any potential challenges to an employee’s wellbeing or pick up on signs that an employee may need some extra support.

    Carry out Risk Assessments

    In line with health and safety obligations, employers should be carrying out mental health risk assessments, to identify any stress risk factors. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have online templates and tools to assist with this. However, completing the assessment shouldn’t be the end of the process.  Once any stress risk factors have been identified, these should be acted on and control measures put in place to reduce the risk of harm.

    Deal with any issues promptly

    Employers should make sure that any issues raised by workers surrounding their wellbeing are dealt with quickly and sensitively. Line managers should be aware of what processes to follow. Listen to any concerns raised by workers, and if they can identify what help they need, this should be implemented if possible.

    Understandably, within farming it can be hard to make adjustments such as flexible working due to the nature of the work. However, employers should be mindful of their duty under the Equality Act 2010, to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. As the definition of disabled extends to those with a mental impairment, employers should make sure that they carefully consider a request for adjustments to assist an employee at work. This could include changes to working arrangements or responsibilities.

    Encourage Healthy Work Habits

    This could include making sure workers take their breaks and use their annual leave entitlement.  It is important as part of any wellbeing strategy that employees are reminded to observe a healthy work-life balance wherever possible. Monitoring working hours can help identify those workers who may need more support to manage their workloads.

    One of the most important things you can do as an employer is to avoid seeing staff wellbeing as a tick-box exercise. A comprehensive wellbeing policy can be a useful tool in ensuring that review of practices and their effectiveness is a regular and ongoing process.

    This article was first published in the June 2021 edition of South East Farmer.

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