Earlier this week, and as part of #FarmSafetyWeek, we looked at how the structure of your business may impact who is investigated, and ultimately prosecuted, if an incident occurs at your farm. You can read that article here.

 So, if the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) investigates an incident, uncovers an unacceptable breach and decides to prosecute, what is the likely impact on your business, above and beyond the financial implications?

 Dealing with the impact of injury or death

The most obvious impact of an incident on your farm which has resulted in an injury or even a fatality will be to the individuals and their families. If they are injured, they may not be able to work, with the knock-on effect on their financial situation.

When a serious injury or death occurs in the workplace – and farms are a workplace – everyone will be affected, even you and your family. There will be immediate actions required of you to deal with the relevant authorities. You should also consider any ongoing needs of your workers to help them deal with the emotional impact of the event. This will involve dealing with your workers’ immediate needs as well as considering the long-term consequences for those involved. The mental health and wellbeing of all those around you is critical at a time like this, not least to prevent other incidents happening due to loss of concentration, emotional breakdown, or other side effects of the trauma. Neither must you forget your own well-being, organisations like ‘Focussed Farmers’ are there to support you.

Although it is difficult at a time like this to turn your mind to practical matters, you still have a business to run so there will be a number of elements you will need to consider. How would the loss of an employee, even if only temporarily, impact your operation, particularly during a busy season such as lambing or harvest?

Contingency planning and mitigating the risk of an incident occurring in the first place should be a key consideration. Having plans in place will help to reduce the stress and pressure on you in the immediate aftermath of an incident and help lessen the financial impact at the same time. Look out for our article later this week with top tips for how you can do this.

HSE investigations

If an incident occurs, the HSE is likely to investigate. As reported earlier this week, the HSE is restarting its pro-active spot checks of farms which means that broader regulatory breaches, and not just injuries and fatalities, will be picked up and investigated.

An HSE investigation, or a spot check which uncovers breaches around safe working, may result in penalties which can be severe, as the following examples demonstrate:

  • A company was fined £100,000 (plus costs) after an employee was struck by a tractor and suffered fatal head injuries. The tractor driver (a teenager) was not found at fault; instead the company was blamed for not undertaking the correct workplace transport risk assessments.
  • A company was fined £40,000 after an employee, engaged to install cabling in a barn, used a box on the forks of a forklift truck as a working platform. The employee fell, resulting in their permanent disfigurement.;
  • The partners of a partnership were fined over £53,000 (plus costs) after an employee died after being crushed by a digger they were using. The digger was found to be poorly maintained and had several serious defects.
  • An individual was imprisoned for multiple offences after a worker suffered fatal injuries after being drawn into an unguarded power take-off.
  • A company was fined £50,000 for failing to manage workplace transport.

 A list of HSE prosecutions can be found here.

The impact of an incident on a business, financially and reputationally, can be profound. For those individuals involved there will be the emotional trauma and potential mental health implications to consider, which will only be prolonged by the pressure of an HSE investigation. You may also find it harder to recruit new employees if the business is perceived to have a poor health and safety record.

Health and safety are important for all businesses, but the agricultural sector remains a high-risk industry. It is important to take the time to review your farm business and the practices you have in place to make sure that, at the end of the day, you and your workers all go home happy and healthy. Later this week, we will publish our top tips to help you minimise risk on your farm and how to deal with an HSE investigation.

If you would like to discuss anything from this article, are concerned about your business or have received notification of an HSE inspection please contact one of the Wright Hassall team.

About the authors

Keri Harwood Solicitor

Keri is a solicitor in our agricultural sector. Having converted to law, after first completing a Masters in Environmental Sciences she has a particular interest in specialising in agricultural and environmental disputes.

Tariva Thomas Associate

Tariva is a member of the Tax and Financial Services Litigation team dealing with disputes relating to investments, tax avoidance schemes and pensions. Tariva advises corporates, individuals, financial institutions and FCA regulated firms.