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Why do farm accidents persist? Normalising danger on the farm within the farm family

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Sally Shortall, Alex Mckee



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Wiley, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


In most of the western world, farming is the most dangerous occupation. It has the highest rate of accidents and fatalities of any industry. Farming remains largely a family business and the majority of accidents happen to family members. Why do safety campaigns have such limited success and why do farm families bring this terrible grief on themselves? This article argues that farm accidents are a persistent social pattern requiring sociological analysis. Based on qualitative data gathered for a Scottish study, it is argued that within farm families there is a socialisation and normalisation of danger. Accidents are to be expected. Two key arguments are advanced. First, danger is normalised and children are socialised to undertake risky behaviour. Furthermore, planning regulations and health and safety regulations make exemptions for agriculture that they do not for other occupations. In particular exemptions are made which allow younger children to drive farm machinery than is the norm for other children. Second, it is suggested that when women do take up farming, they consciously undertake dangerous farming activities to prove that they are ‘authentic’ farmers. No previous research has considered women’s approach to danger, and the existing literature generally suggests women are more safety conscious. This is not supported by our findings. We argue that farm accidents and fatalities are a persistent social problem because of the normalisation of danger within the farm family. Family members socialise each other to accept danger as the norm. It then becomes part of the farming identity.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Shortall S, McKee A, Sutherland LA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Sociology of Health and Illness

Year: 2019

Volume: 41

Issue: 3

Pages: 470-483

Print publication date: 06/03/2019

Online publication date: 18/11/2018

Acceptance date: 10/10/2018

Date deposited: 18/10/2018

ISSN (electronic): 1467-9566

Publisher: Wiley


DOI: 10.1111/1467-9566.12824


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