Written 4th December 2023 by Gareth Martin
Earlier this year my colleague, James Claughton, wrote an article which highlighted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) “Work Right Agriculture- Your Farm Your Future” campaign. That campaign focused on the efforts needed to address the primary cause of deaths in agriculture, namely moving vehicles, which account for approximately 30% of deaths in the last five years.
At the end of October, the HSE reiterated its commitment to making agricultural workplaces safer and healthier, something it says can only be achieved by changing attitudes towards safety. As such the HSE plans to visit 440 farms as part of a national inspection campaign across England, Scotland and Wales.
The visits which will run until April 2024 will focus on various aspects of farm life including working with cattle, falls from height, operating and maintaining vehicles, as well as child safety on the farm and the risks to members of the public. Inspectors will expect to see evidence of what has been done to control risk and comply with the law.
Inspectors will seek reassurance from farmers that they not only understand the inherent risks in the sector but perhaps more importantly that they understand their responsibility to keep themselves and others safe.
As with the “Work Right” campaign the HSE is once again urging farmers up and down the country to think differently about safety and to take heed of not just the law but also the advice on safe practice which the HSE and other industry professionals issue regularly in their bid to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries caused on British farms every year.
Working with cattle
Unfortunately, every year we continue to see death and serious injury caused to those working with cattle, as well as to members of the public, particularly when it comes to cattle being kept in fields with public access. Whilst further specific guidance can be found within Agriculture Information Sheet No.35 in respect of handling and housing cattle and also in Information Sheet No.17 in relation to cattle and public access in England and Wales, it is worth highlighting some of the key points below:
Working with cattle
- Everyone working with cattle should be in good health and properly trained in safe work methods
- Everyone handling cattle should be able to use handling and other safety equipment provided
- Everyone handling cattle should be aware of the dangers and be supervised until competent
- Everyone working with cattle should be able to do so calmly, with minimum shouting, force or impatience
Cattle in fields with public access
- Assess the behaviour and temperament of the animals in the herd before putting them in fields with public access
- When cattle are calving or have calves at foot try to use fields or areas not used by the public
- Plan the location of handling and feeding areas away from public rights of way
- Regularly check and maintain fences, gates and stiles to ensure they are safe and fit for purpose
- Use appropriate signage to warn members of the public of the presence of cattle and other animals
Falls from height
Put simply, the general position is that it is always advisable to instruct a professional contractor when it comes to working at height. There have been instances where people have used fork lift trucks or the buckets of a tractor to lift themselves or others up in order to carry out what they may see as a simple task at height. This is both foolish and illegal, as well as highly dangerous and should never be done.
Operating and maintaining vehicles and machinery
My colleague James referred to some of key considerations on this point in his article on moving vehicles. When using any vehicle or machinery in an agricultural setting it is important to consider at least the following:
- Is the vehicle/machine suitable for the job?
- Is the vehicle/machine in good working order i.e. are there any safety or mechanical defects which need to be fixed before it is safe to use?
- Is the person intending to use the vehicle/machine properly trained to do so?
- Is appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) available?
- Has the work to be undertaken been planned and appropriately risk assessed?
These are just a few of the key considerations and more guidance can be found on the HSE website.
Child safety on the farm
As noted, farms present many risks and the agricultural sector has for many years had one of the highest death and serious injury rates of any industry in England, Wales and Scotland. Whilst in an ideal world children would not be around such risks, the fact is that as well as being workplaces, farms are very often homes and so children and young people may live on or visit them regularly. The HSE has issued detailed guidance in relation to preventing accidents to children on farms and some of the key considerations include:
- Do not overlook everyday risks- whilst something may not represent a particular risk to adults, the same could be deadly for a child, for example gates, ladders, sheep -dip baths feed stores to name but a few
- Stop and think before allowing children to get involved in any task, even those which may seem completely routine and risk free such as feeding animals or collecting eggs
- Provide a safe and secure play area for children to keep them busy and less interested in the farming activities
- Never leave children or young people un-supervised
- Provide age-appropriate warnings and advice to children about the dangers of the farm
- Make sure that employees and contractors working on site know that children live on/visit the site
The HSE inspection campaign, as well as the guidance issued, is not intended to overburden or frighten farmers rather it is hoped that it will serve as a reminder of the potentially devastating consequences of a lax approach to health and safety on the farm.
The HSE have consistently stated, to not only the farming community but all sectors and indeed the wider public, that they will not hesitate to take action against those who continue to fall short and breach health and safety legislation.
Awareness of and compliance with health and safety legislation is not optional and failure to meet your obligations can result in life-changing or even fatal injuries but it can also spell the end of a business given the unlimited fines available to the court in the event of a prosecution and in some instances can land individuals in prison.
What should you do if the HSE get in touch?
If you or your business do come under investigation, it is important to seek legal advice and assistance as soon as possible. The team of experienced lawyers at Olliers will help you navigate the process which can often be lengthy and complex. We will ensure that everything that can be done is done to secure the best possible outcome.
Whether the HSE decides to prosecute or not, the team at Olliers have a wealth of experience in providing advice and assistance to employers, employees and companies facing investigation and prosecution, so do not delay, get in touch with our experts today.
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Gareth joined the firm in 2023 and is an experienced criminal and regulatory solicitor with 15 years post-qualification experience. Gareth has built strong relationships with both clients and fellow professionals and is well regarded for his attention to detail, as well as, his firm but reassuring approach to the role.