A decision to halt Health and Safety Executive farm safety inspections has come under fire from a Suffolk farmers' leader. 

National Farmers' Union (NFU) Suffolk council representative George Gittus, who farms near Bury St Edmunds, described the news as "extremely disappointing" given the industry's "horrific" safety record.

Deaths and serious injuries in the industry has put the sector at or near the top of the UK's league table of most dangerous sectors over a number of years. In the year to April 2024, 32 people lost their lives on farms in the UK.

Farmers - including at the NFU - have been working to improve its performance and feel that the HSE has been a vital part of achieving this. 

The new Farm Safety Partnership (FSP) - made up of a number of farming organisations including the NFU - has raised serious concerns about the move.

"Farm inspections are one of the many tools at our disposal to try and improve the horrific safety record in the farming industry and we would ask them to seriously reconsider this decision," said Mr Gittus, who farms at Symonds Farm, at Risby, near Bury St Edmunds off the A14.

"The NFU and the Farm Safety Partnership continue to do their utmost to highlight to importance of farm safety.

"The NFU is hosting farm safety events in Suffolk and across East Anglia and continues to do everything it can to keep people safe on farms and reduce the number of serious accidents we are seeing.

"So it is extremely disappointing that the HSE has taken the decision to halt farm inspections.

The FPS feared the decision would pose significant risks to the health and safety of agricultural workers in the farming sector.

Its chairman - NFU deputy president David Exwood - said: “We cannot afford to compromise on the safety of our farmers.

"The decision to halt inspections is deeply troubling and we urge the government and HSE to reconsider and continue to work collaboratively with farmers to help ensure they are compliant. We simply must prioritise the wellbeing of the nation’s farmers and growers.

“The lack of public awareness surrounding this decision raises serious questions about their prioritisation of safety within the farming sector.

"While the HSE assures us that investigative inspections will continue in response to serious incidents, the lack of all regular inspections, training and events leaves a notable gap in proactive and preventative safety measures that could prevent accidents and save lives.

“Agriculture has one of the highest rates of fatalities and serious injuries in any workplace and to help bring this number down, as a sector we need to work on changing the culture of farm safety. This decision by HSE completely goes against that goal.

“We are calling on Defra and the Department for Work and Pensions to recognise the critical safety implications of this decision, urgently review the potential impacts and establish a clear plan to prioritise the safety of those in the sector.

“The FSP is committed to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of agricultural workers. We will be engaging in conversations with the government and the wider industry to support the development and implementation of policies and practices that safeguard the livelihoods of those working in agriculture.”

HSE said it is continuing to run campaigns aimed at improving farm safety such as its Workright campaign.

It will continue to provide investigative inspections in response to serious incidents such as on-farm accidents or deaths.