A major new safety campaign has been launched which aims to cut the number of people killed on UK farms by 50% within four years.
This will run throughout 2019, but HSE inspectors will be visiting farms over the next few months or so for unannounced visits, so farmers and other agricultural business owners need to be aware of what the inspectors will be looking for and take the steps required of them by law to protect themselves, their employees and members of the public from ill-health, injury or even death.
If it’s discovered that farmers are not complying with health and safety law, the HSE will use its enforcement powers, including improvement and prohibition notices to ensure that working practices are made safer.
They can start charging Fees For Intervention (FFI) at £129 per hour while working on a case of non-compliance.
First Impressions count
The HSE will be looking for any obvious signs of breaches, which usually starts by asking to see H&S policy, risk assessments, maintenance records and training records.
They will look at farm equipment, with a particular interest in machine guards. These must be fitted and in a well-maintained condition. PTO (power take-off) shafts need to be fitted with the proprietary guards and used all the time.
Most inspectors get a feel for what they are going into before arriving at the front door, so farmers need to start by setting a good impression.
This can be achieved by displaying the correct signs. These should include instructions to any visitors to the farm. It’s important to display clear signs about the speed limit on the farm and any dangerous activities and areas e.g. “Fork Lift Trucks operating - Do not enter”.
The HSE says that the inspectors are “not trying to catch people out”. The campaign is aimed at improving attitudes towards health and safety, which have often been complacent in the past, leading to a worryingly high injury and death rate in the agricultural sector.
The campaign will encourage farmers and agricultural workers to be more open about safety issues. It will also highlight the main causes of deaths and the steps that can be taken to reduce the risks, the consequences and the costs.
The scale of the problem.
Although the agricultural sector employs only 1.2% of the British workforce, 20% of all work-related deaths happen on farms and in agricultural businesses.
According to the annual statistics compiled by the HSE, 29 people were killed in farm accidents in Britain in 2017-18, with another 7 people dying in Northern Ireland. 13,000 people suffered non-fatal injuries, with slips, trips and falls making up the largest proportion (21%).
Of the 29 who were killed:
23% were struck by moving vehicles,
17% were injured by animals,
16% died in falls from height,
11% were struck by a moving or falling object,
10% were trapped under an overturned or collapsing object.
In the agricultural sector in 2017/18, 272 improvement notices and 68 prohibition notices were issued. 17 prosecution cases were brought by the HSE (and the Scottish equivalent prosecution authorities); 16 of these resulted in a guilty verdict for at least one offence. The resulting fines from those prosecutions totalled around £300,000 and the average fine per case was £19,000.
Things to consider with regard to farm safety
A risk assessment is a very important safety document but it’s not enough to just draft it and assume it never needs to be looked at again. It needs to be reviewed annually at the very latest or if something changes that introduces a new or increased risk.
One of the significant features of the agricultural sector is the amount of time spent working alone. This needs a specific risk assessment and has several practical solutions, including mobile phones switched on and charged for all lone workers or the use of two-way radios. Regular check-in times can be arranged so that if they are missed, this will alert somebody to verify that they are all right.
Employees should be given refresher training on the machinery they use every 3 to 5 years. The training should be more frequent if the employee only uses the machinery occasionally or if new machinery is brought in.
Harvest time usually involves heavy machinery and an intensity of labour that may not be so prevalent at other times of the year. Before the harvest starts, the employer should hold a briefing for everybody involved to ensure that they are fully up to speed on their health and safety responsibilities.
Employers need to prepare a written statement of health and safety policy where there are five or more employees.
The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 says that the employer must appoint a ‘competent person’ to help implement the measures necessary to ensure legal compliance.
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