Safety first for student farmers at Brinsbury College

The Farm Safety Foundation brought the dangers of the industry to life at the college through the use of ground-breaking virtual reality (VR) technology. The agricultural students were the first in the country to experience the charity’s new training programme, which is pioneering this impactful and innovative farm safety training.

Nicola Rodwell was one of the students who enjoyed the workshop. She said: "It was really interactive in the way we had to look around a farm scenario and find the hazards. The real-life stories made it relatable for us."

Classmate Will Griggs added: "It really opened our eyes to hazards we might not have considered before."

Farm safety continues to be a major issue for the agriculture industry, which currently has the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK. But the Farm Safety Foundation – or Yellow Wellies as the organisation is also known as - has been working with colleges, including Brinsbury, to raise awareness of the issue among future generations of farmers by challenging and changing their attitudes towards farm safety with an ultimate aim to reduce injuries and fatalities.

Richard Butterfield, an agricultural lecturer at Brinsbury College, said: “Statistics tell us the number of accidents is extremely high in farming, and many of these could be easily avoided – or the risk reduced. The visit of the ‘Yellow Wellies’ team is a key date in the academic year for our students for this reason. As a college, we are committed to ensuring our students take their physical and mental health very seriously and are here to support them every step of the way.

“This year was no exception, and our students were excited to be able to use the new VR technology. It has given them the opportunity to face scenarios they could come across in the future and look at how the risks can be reduced or avoided, as well as consider how they would react in any given situation.”

The Farm Safety Foundation, which was set up by NFU Mutual, has delivered farm safety training to more than 10,000 agricultural students since 2015. This year, it has given the programme a tech-refresh with the introduction of VR technology.

Stephanie Berkeley, Manager of the Foundation, said: “Vocational training will really begin to feel the impact of virtual and augmented reality over the next few years and we are delighted to pioneering this for the next generation of farmers at Brinsbury College. The ability to experience any training in 360 is invaluable and memorable – so to deliver training that may actually save lives and limbs in the future makes it even more important.

“Imagine these students viewing a working farm and its real risks from all angles without even leaving the classroom. We are very privileged to have this opportunity to influence the next generation of farmers and start to nudge better behaviours in an industry with the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK. This is something we take very seriously. 

“We know that young people learn in different ways and we believe in championing alternative learning methods and the value of life skills, as a way of engaging young farmers and equipping them for their chosen career. For a generation raised on interactive technologies, bringing VR into learning can help encourage active engagement and contribute to delivering the farm safety message.

“Education is the key to driving good behaviours in the industry and we wanted to challenge the assumption that Health and Safety training is boring and make our session more active for those participating. Thanks to our funder NFU Mutual and this contribution from The National Lottery Community Fund we are able to do this.”