Health and Safety in Agriculture: Protecting yourself and others

Health and Safety in Agriculture: Protecting yourself and others

The Health and Safety Executive has estimated that over the 10 years between 2007 and 2017 almost one person a week died as a result of working in agriculture and many more are injured. This makes it statistically one of the most dangerous sectors of the economy.  Both employers and employees working in the rural economy have responsibilities towards their employees, colleagues and indeed the general public.

The HSE have published a considerable amount of guidance on its website which is designed to help farmers do all that they can to prevent injury and ill health as a result of working in agriculture. A key element is to identify existing and potential risks and to take steps to minimise those risks.

Some risks are fairly obvious, for example working at height or using farm machinery. Others less so, such as exposure to chemicals or noise and dust.

In this article it is only possible to touch upon some of the main pieces of legislation in this area.  These include the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.  These place duties on companies and individuals to make sure that adequate provision is made for health and safety at work.  Employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees and any others who may be affected by what they do.

Under the 1999 Regulations, employers and the self-employed are under a duty to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to their own health and safety and that of others from the work they do. This includes employees, any casual workers, part-timers, trainees, customers or contractors. It will also include those who may be affected by work activities. This would include neighbours and members of the public.

There are also duties to provide employees with information, instruction, training and supervision needed to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of employees.  Under the RIDDOR regime there is a duty to record and report incidents, diseases and dangerous occurrences. Employees also have duties under the legislation.

Breaking the law can lead to a criminal investigation and possibly prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive. Significant fines can be imposed by the Courts and, in serious cases, custodial sentences.

In 2016 the Sentencing Council published guidelines on how those convicted of health and safety offences – including cases or corporate manslaughter – should be punished.  These have resulted in significant increases in the penalties handed down.  In 2018 the guidelines were toughened further.  In November 2018 a farmer was sent to prison for over 4 years as a result of a fatality on a farm.

All reputable farm businesses will be eager to stay on the right side of the law; not just for fear of the penalties but also because it is the right thing to do.

A good starting point for any farmer will be the HSE’s “Farmwise” guidance.

This article was first published in the April 2019 edition of South East Farmer.