Agricultural Brief - Health and safety on farms

10 January 2017

With high numbers of fatalities agriculture remains one of the riskiest industry sectors: there were 29 people killed between 2015-2016.

With high numbers of fatalities agriculture remains one of the riskiest industry sectors: there were 29 people killed between 2015-2016. The main causes of death were transport related (24%), falls from height (21%) and contact with machinery (10%). While the figures represent a fall from previous years there is still a lot that employers can do to ensure that downward trend continues.

Health and safety is clearly a fundamental requirement for any farming business and should be regarded as an essential part of farm business management. To ensure, as far as possible, that the organisation is compliant risk assessments should be undertaken for all the real risks related to your farm. Have a plan to manage those risks to protect people from harm, or the risk of harm, and carry out regular inspections.

A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the identifiable risks in your workplace. The law does not expect you to be able to remove all risks but to protect people by putting in place measures to control those risks, so far as reasonably practicable. Keep it simple and focused on the needs and requirements of your business.

The introduction of new sentencing guidelines in February 2016 means that an offending organisation can now expect to receive a fine in the hundreds of thousands of pounds as opposed to tens of thousands. Protecting employees and non-employees alike is a serious requirement and should not be taken lightly. Getting it wrong can have fatal consequences, not just for those affected but also for the future of your business.


The majority of farm vehicle fatalities occur as a result of overturns, when working on slopes, or collisions with pedestrians. To ensure that you manage and reduce the risks involved consider the following: safe stop, safe vehicle, safe driver and safe site. Ensure that power to vehicles is turned off (safe stop), that vehicles are suitable for the work to be performed (safe vehicle), ensure your drivers are properly trained and competent to undertake the work (safe driver) and ensure that traffic routes are maintained and well lit with proper segregation between vehicles and pedestrians (safe site).*

Falls from height

Falls are the second highest cause of deaths in agriculture with at least eight people dying each year. Most incidents can be avoided if risks are identified and managed; always plan the work in advance and make sure everyone knows the precautions to be followed. Work on fragile roofs is very dangerous and is best avoided if possible; instruct a competent contractor to undertake this work and make sure there is adequate monitoring and supervision.

Many reported incidents occur when loading bales onto a trailer so always ensure that trailer floors are in good condition, loads are built to bind themselves, stackers keep away from the edges and full loads are secured before leaving the field. Stacking is a skill so ensure stackers are trained, competent people and inspect stacks regularly.

Working in agriculture can be high risk and the consequences of getting it wrong can be fatal. Be proactive in your health and safety management and follow the Birketts safety mantra of:

  • say what you do
  • do what you say
  • have the paperwork to prove it.

At Birketts our team of Safety Specialists (former HSE Inspectors) can offer practical and realistic expert advice and assistance and have the support of our team of specialist solicitors and barristers.

* this list is not exhaustive. For more information visit

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding health and safety on farms, please contact Julie Gowland or another member of Birketts' Health and Safety Team. Law covered as at January 2017.

This article is taken from our Agricultural Brief Winter 2016 publication. Similar articles can be found in the latest edition.