InsightsInsight - Agriculture and Rural - POSTED: July 31 2019
Safety First: Three tips to avoid legal action
Those running a land-based business face many challenges, from uncertainty over the future legislation and funding post-Brexit, to the unpredictability of the weather.
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In addition to this, there are legal risks to contend with. Clearly, we don’t have much control over the weather, but we do have the power to mitigate the risks associated with many other types of threats by understanding how best to avoid legal action.
Health and Safety
It’s concerning to note that agriculture is one of the highest risk sectors of the economy. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that 39 people were killed as a result of farming and other agriculture-related activities during 2018/19. Fourteen of those were killed when struck by a moving vehicle.
There are numerous health and safety laws and regulations which affect farm businesses. Enforcement action can be taken even if there is no actual incident or injury as the HSE are looking at the risk of harm caused by a breach. Prosecution can lead to significant fines and even prison sentences.
The best way to minimise the risk of both injuries and enforcement action is to ensure that owners, managers and workers within the business are made aware of their legal responsibilities. As well, staff should be provided with the appropriate equipment and training to carry out their work safely.
The Environment Agency (EA) is the regulator for pollution, fisheries and waste and is responsible for granting and monitoring environmental permits. A farm business may require a permit from the EA if its activities involve potential pollution of air, land or water, such as handling waste. Specific permits can also be required for operations such as water discharge activities.
If a permit is required, then it is an offence not to have one in place or to fail to comply with the terms and conditions of a permit. As such, it is important to understand what does and does not require a permit.
The EA can carry out routine inspections to check on permit compliance. They can also investigate a business if it is suspected of being the cause of a pollution incident. Ensuring that employees and contractors are not cutting corners on environmental protections is essential if a business is to avoid being held responsible for their actions.
While planning permission is not required for much agricultural and forestry activity, it’s usually needed for carrying out operational development, such as erecting a new building or creating fishing lakes, or where there is a material change in the use of land.
There are permitted development rights which can be utilised to carry out much of the development needed to operate as a farm. However, it’s important to remember that many of these rights are subject to various limitations and conditions and may still require an application to the Council for ‘prior approval’.
Where a business is looking to diversify – for example when converting a farm building into a non-agricultural use such as holiday lets or industrial units – then a specific grant of planning permission from the Council may be required. Development without consent from the Council can lead to enforcement action including the demolition of buildings or cessation of use.
It’s important to stay ahead of the law
Farming is a heavily regulated sector of the economy. This is perhaps to be expected when farm businesses have such a significant impact on their workers, the landscape and our natural environment.
The pace of change in laws and regulations is likely to increase post-Brexit, so keeping up-to-speed is essential to avoid falling foul of the various public sector agencies, each of which have powers of enforcement. This is all in addition to the vital day job of providing us all with the food we eat.
This article was first published in the August 2019 edition of South East Farmer.
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