Keeping pace with change: health and safety in an evolving agricultural world

An interview with Dr Jude Capper

Dr Jude Capper is an independent livestock sustainability consultant based in the UK. She was the Dairy Industry Woman of the Year in 2017 and the 2018 Farmers Guardian Farming Hero. Jude joined us to answer some questions on the importance of health and safety in agriculture.

Hello Jude, thank you for joining us. How did you become interested in farming?

Unlike many working in agriculture, I didn’t grow up on a farm. We did have horses, and this sparked my interest in agriculture. After school, I studied for a BSc in Agriculture with Animal Science and a PhD in Ruminant Nutrition and Behaviour at Harper Adams University College. I followed this with post-doctoral research at Cornell University and a faculty position at Washington State University. My research now focuses on modelling the sustainability of livestock production systems, specifically dairy and beef.

How would you say that agricultural sustainability relates to health and safety?

I would say that there are three key elements to sustainability in agriculture. These are economic viability, environmental responsibility, and social acceptability. Health and safety has a role in all of these areas, but social acceptability comes to the fore. I have been struck by the frequency of emails from Farmers Weekly and Farmers Guardian about injuries and fatalities on farms, and think it is vitally important that we tackle this. We need to think more about the impact of incidents on the farming community and wider society and consider how injuries challenge sustainability.

Can you make any other connections between your research and how health and safety on farms could be improved?

A crucial part of my research is collecting data on livestock and technology to inform how we can improve sustainability as we move forwards. Mirroring this effort to learn from past and current data could definitely help to keep farms safer, as farmers can keep pace with change by keeping up to date with health and safety guidelines and learning from incidents reported in the press to keep themselves and others safe. Of course, there is also a need for the farming industry as a whole to think more deeply about how to tackle unsafe behaviours and highlight the consequences of incidents.

Are there any other points you would like to make?

Health and safety on farms is important to me, just as it should be important to everyone connected to farming. The priority should always be protecting people working on and visiting farms. It might seem like a niche issue, but we need to be the best at what we do to keep farming sustainable, including health and safety. Farmers need to be kept safe and healthy, in both a physical and mental sense, and everyone in the industry has a role to play in supporting this.

Dr Jude Capper is an independent livestock sustainability consultant

To hear more about Jude’s thoughts on agricultural topics including health and safety, you can follow @Bovidiva on Twitter.