Agricultural Brief - Managing health and safety: top ten tips

15 January 2020

In the last ten years, almost one person a week has been killed as a direct result of agricultural work. Many more have been seriously injured or made ill by their work.

These statistics and HSE’s Business Plan for 2019/2020 put a particular focus on inspection programmes and targets for the agriculture sector and highlight the need for effective health and safety management.

Why worry about health and safety?

Health and safety is a fundamental requirement of any sustainable farming business and should be regarded as an essential part of farm business management. Good farmers and employers recognise the benefits of reducing incidents among their workers and are aware of the financial and reputational reasons to achieve good standards of health and safety.

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that their employees work within a safe environment. If employers breach their legal duties, not only will their reputation and that of their business be damaged, but they could find themselves being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive and prosecuted.

It is therefore very important that you know your duties and your risks and that you manage those risks effectively to show that you have taken all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of your employees and others.

Common issues

Contrary to popular belief, having a mountain of paperwork will seldom solve the issues. Good health and safety is about having practical solutions to real risks. You must have robust risk assessments and safe systems of work in place, particularly as farmers and farm workers work with potentially dangerous machinery, vehicles, chemicals, livestock, at height or near pits and silos. These risks can also extend to family members working on the farm and children living on site.

Although it is important to have adequate policies and procedures in place, it is equally important to provide sufficient training to new employees as well as existing ones.

Businesses using temporary or seasonal workers must provide the same level of health and safety protection for them as they do for employees. Training and the provision of information is key. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states safety training is particularly important when people start work and The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER98) specifies the need for training for people who use work equipment.

Many employers believe that induction training is sufficient long term when in fact updated training should be provided regularly throughout employment; this can be delivered from a variety of sources including tool box talks, the issuing of safety bulletins, local health and safety groups and the HSE website amongst others.

Problems can arise when the policies and procedures are not implemented correctly; this can often be the case when companies conduct work out of their ordinary remit without appropriately adjusting or implementing new policies and procedures. Unwise risk-taking is an underlying problem in the agriculture industry and those working on their own are especially vulnerable.

Top ten tips

Below are our top 10 tips for effective health and safety management:

  1. take health and safety seriously
  2. know your health and safety obligations and how to manage them
  3. monitor health and safety and the risks regularly with effective risk assessments
  4. review what is happening (both on paper and in reality)
  5. enforce your policies and procedures
  6. lead from the top down
  7. have clear lines of responsibility and supervision
  8. ensure you have appropriate training in place
  9. do not be complacent
  10. walk the walk and talk the talk.

In summary, ‘say what you do, do what you say and have the paperwork to prove it’!

The content of this article is for general information only. If you require further health and safety and agriculture information, please contact  Julie Gowland of the Regulatory and Corporate Defence team at Birketts. Our team consists of Consultants (including former HSE Inspectors) who can offer practical and realistic expert advice and assistance as well as specialist solicitors and barristers.

This article is from the winter 2019 / 2020 issue of Agricultural Brief, our newsletter for farmers, landowners and others involved in agriculture. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. 

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The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2020.