As #FarmSafetyWeek draws to a close, it is clear to see that the health and safety of you, your farm and your workers is essential to keep your business secure.

A key way of doing this is to take a proactive approach to risk mitigation by reviewing and assessing the equipment, activities and procedures used on your farm. This way, you can check they are fit for purpose reducing the risk of an incident and, should an incident occur, ensure you are in the best possible position to deal with an HSE enquiry.

Risk assessments

Carry out risk assessments (and write them down!) for all the activities undertaken on site and create policies / procedures for these. Make sure that these are regularly reviewed (and that review recorded) and kept up to date so that they are still relevant for the work and your farm.

A risk assessment can be informal, and you are likely to do these on a regular basis without even thinking about it. Record all assessments in writing and make them accessible (so everyone knows where to find them in the event of an investigation). This will demonstrate to HSE that you have thought about risk and have an accessible plan in place to mitigate it.

Equipment and Machinery

Ensure that you have the right equipment or machinery for the right job and make sure the individuals are trained how to use it correctly. If equipment is not used correctly (think wearing of helmets on ATV’s) consider changing the equipment or agreeing incorrect use of by employees amounts to gross misconduct.

Record keeping

We know, trust the lawyers to advocate more paperwork! However, keeping records of training, risk assessments and vehicle / machinery maintenance enables you to understand and demonstrate exactly what maintenance is required or whether your workers have any training needs. It is essential to demonstrate good working practices if the HSE does investigate or even conduct a spot-check.

In one particularly tragic event when a 25 year farm worker was killed when his tractor and trailer fell from a steep-sided field into the road below, the farmer and his manager were prosecuted for not ensuring the tractor had been adequately maintained. Eventually both men were acquitted when GPS data revealed the tractor had undergone rigorous safety checks before the start of the silage season.

Communication is key

Communicate with everyone on your farm, whether family members (and particularly children), employees, contractors or seasonal workers. Everyone should know the procedures that you have in place to ensure that they are all safe when they are on site.

You need to have a system to record where workers are going to be and what time they are expected back, so that it is easier to identify if someone has got in to difficulty. Try and minimise lone working or at least takes steps to reduce the associated risks such as always having a mobile phone.

 

If you see individuals behaving in a way that contradicts these policies, speak to them so they understand it is not acceptable and fundamentally dangerous. It may be a difficult conversation to have, particularly if they are simply carrying out a task in “the way it has always been done” but these conversations can save lives and reduce the risk of an HSE enquiry.

Don’t Hide!

If an incident does occur at your farm, don’t hide and bury your head in the sand! Check that everyone involved has followed the requisite policies and procedures. There will be some immediate actions required (like medical attention for those involved, other authorities you’re your insurers), but also speak to your legal team; they will be able to assist you with the crisis management and also guide you through the next stages of the process.

It is always more costly to react to an incident than be proactive and prevent it happening in the first place. We are approaching a busy time of year, and there are never enough hours in the day. However, it is worth investing the time as the impact on your business overall (not just an HSE investigation and potential fine, but also the loss of a worker at a potentially busy time) can be significantly more costly.

Be prepared: minimise risks and monitor the activities that are going on at your farm. The farmyard, barns and other buildings can often feel like an extension of the farmhouse. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because you think everything is fine. Make sure you check that everything is fine, it is your business at stake if carelessness results in an incident and a consequential HSE investigation.  

The HSE ultimately wants to ensure that there are safe systems of work in place so people can go home healthy and safely. Demonstrating that this is your aim too will help to minimise the risk for everyone involved with your farm; after all, everyone deserves to go home safely at the end of the day.

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.