Health & Safety Breaches

16 December 2017

Since February 2016, farming companies with a turnover of up to £2m who are found to have breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 can expect to pay fines of up to £450,000.

Larger businesses – with turnovers in excess of £50m – can face fines of up to £10m. Individuals found guilty of breaching the law can be handed unlimited fines or face a two-year prison sentence.

Judges could previously only impose custodial sentences in very specific circumstances, with fines in the lower courts limited to £20,000.

The change in law has been brought in to improve health and safety in one of the most dangerous industries is certainly welcomed and supported
“These guidelines are meant to act as a deterrent – and farmers should be aware that lapses in judgment, or a failure to take a proactive approach to safety, could cripple their operations.” Richard Wade, of Lycetts Risk Management Services

Agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury – 7.61 per 100,000 people – which is 18 times higher than the all industry rate. In 2016/17, 30 people were killed in agriculture.

A company in Essex was fined £120,000 earlier this year after an employee was seriously injured by a chainsaw while felling trees.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the man had not been trained to operate the chainsaw, nor was he wearing any personal protective equipment. There was no supervision and no proper planning had been put in place.

A company in the South West was fined £115,000 after a worker fell from height at a farm. The worker fell through a fragile skylight and broke his back.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to take adequate precautions to prevent workers falling from height. There was no edge protection, under-roof netting or boarding provided on site. The company instead relied on an ineffective use of harnesses.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers to provide their employees with information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, their health and safety at work.  

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER98) specifies the need for training for people who use work equipment. This covers anyone who uses the equipment, including visiting workers.

  • Remember visiting workers such as lorry drivers and vets are also at risk and you have a duty to ensure they are safe when they are on your premises or farm.
  • Avoid creating slippery surfaces eg good drainage in wet processes such as vegetable washing areas or dairies, and keep outdoor routes salted, sanded and swept during icy conditions. Slips, trips and falls can happen anywhere in workplaces, such as in buildings or yards.  Deal with spillages promptly – Don’t leave it to someone else to sort out.
  • Make sure no one can fall from open edges such as catwalks above grain bins or feed lofts.   Provide guardrails or barriers.  You must also take precautions if there is a risk of injury from falls into tanks, pits or onto projecting objects. You will also need to provide a safe means of access for all who will be using the site, such as ramps for areas frequented by wheelbarrows.
  • Check working areas are free from obstructions, such as trailing cables, sacks or pallets and there is enough space for storing tools and materials. 
  • Keep your buildings and facilities in good repair, making sure floors are not overloaded, especially in feed lofts or older buildings.
  • Install adequate and suitable lighting. Use natural light where possible but try to avoid glare. Note that some fluorescent tubes flicker and can be dangerous, making rotating machinery appear stationary. Well-lit outside areas will also help security;
  • Maintain adequate temperature and ventilation including fresh air when working inside;
  • Display safety signs where a significant risk to health and safety remains after you have taken other control measures identified by your risk assessment.

This article is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.