The human factor in agriculture: an interview study to identify farmers' non-technical skills

A. Irwin, J. Poots

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Farming represents a high risk occupation, responsible for several thousand worker injuries and fatalities worldwide per year. Research within other high risk industries, such as aviation, shipping and healthcare, has identified the importance of non-technical skills in maintaining effective performance and reducing the risk of an adverse event. The aim of the current study was to identify the categories of non-technical skills that are typically used by farmers.
Method: A sample of 32 farmers, from within two geographical regions (Scotland and Northern Ireland), were interviewed using the critical incident technique. The interview transcripts were then coded using thematic analysis in order to identify reported non-technical skills.
Results: Participants reported the daily use of a range of non-technical skills, these differed according to whether the farmer was working as part of a team or alone. Team non-technical skills were identified as: Situation awareness, decision-making, leadership, teamwork and task management. Lone worker non-technical skills were identified as: Situation awareness, decision-making and task management.
Conclusion: The results indicate that non-technical skills are an important aspect of farmers’ work performance and safety; mirroring the findings reported within other high risk industries. Further research is required to validate the skill set suggested here, and to develop a behavioural marker system similar to that used in other industries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-121
Number of pages8
JournalSafety Science
Early online date7 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank Rick Brunt from the Agriculture section of the HSE for his input and advice regarding this study. We would also like to thank all of the farm participants for giving up their time to take part in this study. This research was funded by the University of Aberdeen.


  • non-technical skills
  • safety
  • agriculture
  • UK
  • Northern Ireland


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