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The agricultural sector, one of the sectors with the highest number of serious occupational accidents in Spain

 

In recent years, this sector has failed to put in place appropriate security measures for its work that are available in the market (Photo: no one cares / Unsplash)

04/10/2021
Pablo Ramos

A study by UOC researchers identifies the reasons for the proportion of occupational accidents in the Spanish agricultural sector


In recent years, this sector has failed to put in place appropriate security measures for its work that are available in the market

The agricultural sector is one of the sectors with the highest rate of serious accidents in Spain, clearly above all other sectors. This is one of the main findings of a study carried out by researchers at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) identifying the reasons for this high accident rate in activities such as farming.

The research, which has been published in the scientific publication Safety Science, analysed more than 150,000 accidents of different types and severity taking place in Spain between 2013 and 2018. "The primary sector has a high rate of serious accidents compared to all other sectors", stated Natlia Cuguer, an expert from the UOC's research group SUMA (Sustainability and Management Research Group), and Xavier Baraza, from the UOC’s research group DigiBiz (Digital Business Research Group).

Moreover, according to these experts, activities such as agriculture have hardly been the subject of any investigations into occupational accidents despite being the sector with the third highest accident rate, after only the chemical and construction industries. "The primary sector has been insufficiently studied even though it is the source of numerous accidents. As a result, the ratios persist over time, because the first two sectors have incorporated numerous security measures, and the same requirements have not been added in the case of agriculture," explained Cuguer.

 

Reasons for the High Accident Rate

The researchers have identified several causes for this very high occupational accident rate in agriculture, many of them related to the risks inherent in the activity, such as the use of machinery and the sector's harsh physical demands, but also some relating to employee profiles and the specific characteristics of this type of work. "This is a sector with a high proportion of immigrant workers and a high risk due to the very nature of the work. In addition, activities such as agriculture have been characterized in recent decades by very precarious working conditions," the authors explained.

Thus, as a sector becomes more precarious, the people who work in it "are less likely to become organized, claim their rights and analyse the specific causes of accidents, which is a matter of social justice," the researchers pointed out.

Thus, occupational accidents in the primary sector are related to factors such as age, sex, nationality, economic activity, the company's personnel, the length of the working day, the place where the accident took place and even the region. Specifically, the autonomous communities of Andalusia, Valencia and Murcia account for about 60% of agricultural accidents, with 37%, 13% and 9%, respectively. These regions are characterized by more intensive farming and a workforce that usually includes immigrant workers. In contrast, there are fewer—but more serious—accidents in regions such as Catalonia, Castile-La Mancha, Castile and Len, and Extremadura, where the use of machinery for agricultural work is greater.

"In general, the regions with more workers in this sector have more accidents as well as more severe accidents. They are less severe with respect to the total in Andalusia, Valencia and Murcia. However, the opposite is true, with more severe or fatal accidents with respect to the total, in areas such as Catalonia, Castile and Len, Castile-La Mancha, and Extremadura. This can be attributed to their more intensive use of machinery", stressed the experts, although they emphasized that the high accident rate "continues over time" and has hardly improved in recent decades.

The authors also pointed out that a high percentage of accidents involve an overestimation of the capabilities of each worker and a low perception of danger. "As a result, some workers underestimate the risks involved and take on more risks, leading to more serious accidents. It is therefore necessary to increase other ways of raising awareness of the risks among workers," said the researchers.

 

Safety Proposals and Solutions in the Sector

In relation to this, after a detailed analysis with 14 variables of the thousands of accidents that have taken place, the authors of the study have offered various findings and lines of research with the aim of improving the safety of workers as well as helping the regulators that decide on the laws and regulations of the sector.

In this regard, the experts propose implementing training and awareness plans on the occupational risks of primary sector activities and on the need to take protection and self-protection measures both for people with little experience and for those who have worked in the sector for a long time. "Training throughout one's working life is key to workers continuing to assess risks and protect themselves properly from them. This relaxation due to overconfidence and to an easing of protection measures could be corrected by companies in the sector providing continuous training," Baraza added.

The government, for its part, must increase its efforts in terms of research and prevention measures in this sector, as it is the sector with the third highest number of accidents in Spain. Moreover, according to some estimates, the lack of control in the sector could be hiding the precarious situation of some workers, which means that these occupational accident figures in the agricultural sector could increase.

In relation to this, we should bear in mind that agriculture is an extremely important sector in a sustainable world, and that this situation will probably get worse as production increases. The adoption of measures to reduce accidents must therefore be a priority. The solution for the sector must thus include an increase in technology, technification coupled with training.

"These measures will lead to greater efficiency but also to a greater need for training in the use of such machinery. If the use of machinery is intensified but proper training is not provided, the result will be an increase in productivity but at the cost of more serious accidents. We therefore think it is important to adopt measures for sustainability, efficiency and intensive use of machinery that in turn include greater prevention strategies and continuous training so that this efficiency is not achieved at the cost of occupational health," the experts concluded.

All these results must be used by both businesses and regulators to increase the safety of agricultural activities. However, these findings only apply to the Spanish primary sector.

 

This research by the UOC supports Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3, Good Health and Well-being, 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and 10, Reducing Inequality.

 

Reference

BARAZA, Javier, CUGUER-ESCOFET, Natlia. Severity of occupational agricultural accidents in Spain, 2013–2018. In: Safety Science [online]. 2021. Vol. 143, n.105.422. ISSN 0925-7535. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2021.105422.

 

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UOC experts

Natlia Cuguer

Expert from the UOC's research group SUMA (Sustainability and Management Research Group)

Photograph of Xavier Baraza Snchez

Xavier Baraza Snchez

Lecturer in the Economics and Business Studies Department
Director of the university master's degree programme in Health and Safety

Expert in: Executive management of occupational health and safety; industrial safety in the chemical industry.

Knowledge area: Health and Safety.

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