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Self-Employed Contractors and Safety - What Farmers Need to Know

Farm Safety Week runs every year, and to tie in with this, the HSE releases figures relating to deaths on farms over the past year. One significant thing about this year's figures was the number of self-employed people who died (25 out of 34 workers), and this highlights the importance of being aware of health and safety when it comes to self-employed contractors.

What do farmers need to know?

The requirement to observe good health and safety practices within the business premises also applies to external contractors engaged to carry out work on behalf of the business (harvesting, moving livestock, sheep dipping, etc). If contractors are employed to carry out work, a business has a legal responsibility for their health and safety whilst they are on the business premises. There is also a duty to protect employees and the public from any actions by the contractor when working on the business premises.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places duties on the employer and contractors to protect, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of employees and other people who may be affected by their work activities. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require all employers who share a workplace, including on a temporary basis, to co-operate with each other and co-ordinate their work to make sure everyone can comply with the law.

Any accident or incident caused by a contractor’s negligence or incompetence may make a business liable to prosecution unless it can be shown that due diligence was taken by ensuring the contractor:

  • was the contractor competent to carry out the work;

  • had approved systems of work;

  • had carried out appropriate risk assessments;

  • was adhering to these during the working period.

Contractors should be vetted before being engaged to carry out any work. Areas that a business may consider and ask for evidence of include the following:

  • The Health & Safety policy of the contractor

  • Risk assessments relevant to the work being carried out

  • Method statements indicating how the work will be carried out, who will be doing it and what equipment they will be using

  • Membership of professional/trade associations

  • Qualifications

  • Experience of previous work carried out

  • References from previous clients

  • Accident history

  • Health & Safety training the contractor has given their employees

  • Any enforcement/improvement/prohibition notices received by them in the last 3 years

Other issues that may arise include the employment of sub-contractors by the contractor carrying out the work. It is important that:

  • the sub-contractors are working to the same Health & Safety standards as the contractor;

  • suitable provisions for supervision and communication are in place.

It may be the case that a number of different contractors are on site at the same time. This may lead to problems if the work being carried out by one affects the other. It is important that lines of communication are clear and concise. A business will have to make contractors aware of any possible hazards on the business premises which may affect them before a contractor starts any work. These include:

  • The presence of asbestos

  • Hazardous chemicals/Pesticides/Veterinary Medicines

  • Presence of gas and electricity services/Overhead power cables

  • Water hazards

  • Lone working

  • Handling Livestock

  • Working at height

  • Building work

  • Use and Maintenance of machinery

  • Use of chainsaws

  • Workplace safety and welfare

  • Young workers

How they deal with these issues should be included in their risk assessments. Lastly, the contractor should be monitored to ensure they adhere to the safety precautions outlined in their method statement.

Family workers may be self-employed, employees, partners or directors. If the business is a partnership and all those who work on the farm at any time are included in the partnership agreement, then each one will be regarded as self-employed. If the business is a ‘body corporate’, in other words a company, then the company is the ‘employer’. Directors and others working for that company may be ‘employees’ or ‘self-employed’. If the business is run by an individual trading on their own account, then they are self-employed and others working for them may be ‘employees’ or ‘self-employed’. Just as with other workers, whether or not they pay their own tax or National Insurance may be irrelevant for health and safety purposes. If family members work mainly for your business, are told how to carry out the work, use tools and materials supplied by you, and are under your control then they will probably be regarded as your employees for health and safety purposes. This means health and safety laws will apply to you in the same way as to any other employer.

If you use temporary, casual or agency workers, e.g. to carry out harvest work, you have a legal duty to ensure their health and safety while they are at work on your premises. Where workers are supplied to you by a labour provider, which may be a gangmaster or employment agency or business, you should agree with the labour provider who will take responsibility for health and safety management, supervision and training, providing and maintaining any personal protective equipment and, where appropriate, health surveillance. This can be covered in a written contract or service agreement.

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