• Emma Simons

Farm Safety - What Do Farmers Need To Know?

A death on the farm can be a traumatic experience, made all the more so by the likelihood that the person who has been killed is a family member or close friend.

In the space of a few short weeks, the HSE has been notified of four fatalities on farms.

  • 27th July 2021: An investigation, led by Police Scotland with support from HSE, is ongoing after a man died in an apparent fall from height.

  • 3rd August 2021: An investigation, led by Dyfed Powys Police with support from HSE, is ongoing after a three-year-old boy died following a collision with a vehicle.

  • 9th August 2021: An investigation, led by Hampshire Police with support from HSE, is ongoing after a man died in a crushing incident involving a ramp falling from a truck.

  • 10th August 2021: An investigation, led by Avon and Somerset Police with support from HSE, is ongoing after a man was found with fatal injuries and surrounded by cattle in a field.

The incidents came just three weeks after Farm Safety Week, when the HSE issued its Fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain 2020/21 report, highlighting the high fatality rate in the industry.

What farmers need to know

The first thing that will happen after an incident in which someone is either killed or suffers injuries that are eventually fatal is that the emergency services are called. The ambulance and police will attend and at that point, effectively, the investigation begins, both by the police in the first instance and then by the HSE.

This is a crucial window for any business, and it is very easy to get things wrong without meaning to; there are facts that the business and its owners must know in order to prevent a crisis from spiralling into a disaster.

What should they do - or not do?

Ideally, the business should have a nominated incident management team (or person, depending on the size of the business) with authority to communicate with the Police/regulatory authorities and to take charge of all aspects. The team should develop a clear line of contact with authorities and a system of reporting key developments to the senior management or owner.

The responsibilities may include:

  • Co-operate with investigations so far as legally required to do so (obstruction may constitute a criminal offence)

  • Secure the scene of the incident and ensure witnesses remain on site until the Police/regulators arrive; this will include isolating/cordoning off machinery and other equipment involved in the incident

  • Notify insurers and solicitors urgently

  • Make copies of training records, policies and procedures documents (the originals are likely to be seized and you may need to answer questions based on them later)

  • Take a record of the names and IDs of attending authorities/personnel

  • Get receipts for items seized

  • Preserve any CCTV – save/copy etc.

  • If witnesses are to be questioned, they should be told whether this is as a witness or as a suspect. If the latter, questioning should not begin until that person has legal representation present to advise them on their rights

  • Employees – consider whether a message of reassurance needs to be communicated, and whether offers of support or counselling might be required

It is also important for farmers and rural business owners to know which regulatory/enforcement body will be dealing with which aspect of the investigation.

What can the Police/HSE do?

Only the Police can investigate serious criminal offences, other than H&S offences, such as manslaughter. The Police also have an interest in establishing circumstances to assist the coroner’s inquest.

The Police / HSE can:

  • enter the property to seize evidence and question witnesses

  • secure the scene and undertake a risk assessment to ensure there is no further exposure to significant health and safety risks

If there has been a fatality, it is likely the Police and HSE will attend together but the Police will take the lead.

If there has been a serious injury, it is likely HSE will attend.

The Work Related Death Protocol means that the Police, HSE and other signatory regulators will work together to investigate work-related deaths. The Protocol sets out the arrangements and processes to be followed.

The repercussions

As can be imagined, the news that a fatal accident has taken place can spread rapidly in rural communities; the presence of the emergency services will only exacerbate things.

This can have a sizeable and serious effect on the farm’s reputation and it is therefore important that there is a prepared strategy by the organisation to manage the fallout that will ensue.

Although a farm owner may decide that they do not wish to deal with the press, the nature of the incident may mean that this is impossible. The media have an ability to arrive on the scene that is almost prescient, and the best strategy is to deal with the inevitable. A brief statement should be prepared and quickly issued to prevent damaging speculation or misrepresentation.

Staff should be briefed to refer all PR enquiries to a nominated individual/team; no comment should be made to the media until legal advice is obtained.

In addition to handling the repercussions of a safety incident, farmers and rural business owners should bear in mind that a good health and safety procedure can stand them in excellent stead when it comes to establishing working practices and policies that work to reduce the likelihood of an incident happening in the first place. Other benefits can include:

  • A reduction in injuries and ill health and the resulting financial and personal costs.

  • Improved productivity, good morale and a happier, healthier workforce.

  • Better farming practice to help develop a sustainable farming business.

  • The ability to carry out weather-critical operations at the right time.

  • Reduced sickness payments and recruitment/training costs for replacement workers.

  • Reduced loss of output resulting from experienced and competent workers being off work.

  • Longer life for equipment and machinery.

  • Less chance of damage to machinery, buildings and product.

  • Lower insurance premiums and legal costs.

  • Less chance of enforcement action and its costs, e.g. the cost of dealing with an incident and/or fines, fees for intervention.

  • Reduced risk of damage to the reputation of the business.

Health and safety should be integrated within normal working practices and form part of the work culture.

Where do accidents happen?

The main areas where accidents occur on a farm are:

  • Falls from height – through roofs, off ladders, off tanks.

  • Machinery – drawn in, entangled, uncovered moving parts.

  • Vehicles – run over, crushed, overturned.

  • Chemicals – exposure to chemicals, incorrect procedure.

  • Bio-hazards – bacteria e.g. E.coli from animal droppings.

  • Electricity – mainly caused by coming into contact with overhead power lines.

  • Asphyxiation or drowning.

  • Injury by an animal.

  • Being struck by moving or falling objects.

  • Trapped by something collapsing or overturning.