A focus on health and safety

A guest blog from Julie Gowland, Partner, Birketts LLP
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Julie Gowland

With harvest on the horizon, never has there been a better time for businesses to review their internal procedures and policies to ensure safe working procedures are followed.

The fatal injury statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) make for uncomfortable reading. The 2022/2023 statistics show that:

  1. 135 workers were killed in work-related accidents.
  2. 60,645 non-fatal injuries to employees were reported under RIDDOR; and
  3. despite the HSE workforce decreasing, the conviction rate remains strong at 94%.

Out of the 135 deaths, twenty-one related to workers killed in the Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry (“AFF”) sector. In addition to this, 6 members of the public were fatally injured on British farms.

Given that farms typically use heavy machinery, large vehicles and forklifts, work at height, store large volumes of chemicals and pesticides, and control livestock, it is imperative that you identify and manage risks associated with the operation of your business which impact your workers, family and children living on the farm, as well as the public.

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 need to reduce 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.

Breach of duty can lead to prosecution; an incident or injury is not a pre-requisite as the law is focused upon mitigating risk.

It is therefore very important that you understand what your legal obligations are, and that identify and suitably mitigate risk.

So, where should you start?

Training – Training is crucial to ensure that all workers are aware of the policies, procedures and best practice on the farm. In addition to practical training, keeping written logs and records ensures that you can evidence what you are doing to address risk – this is particularly crucial with seasonal workers or businesses with a high staff turnover.

Refresher training, toolbox talks, the issuing of safety bulletins, referencing local health and safety groups and the HSE website for instance, are effective ways of reminding your employees of their obligations.

Enforcing your policies and procedures – If you witness or discover that employees are failing to comply with your policies and procedures, you should address non-compliance. Enforcement of your standards will demonstrate to your business, and those on the outside looking in, that you are ensuring safe business practice.

Supervision and management – A clear management structure is instrumental to ensuring that any questions, concerns, or accidents are dealt with expediently and by the correct person. You need to be confident that your people are working in the correct way.

When you are reviewing internal policies and procedures, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When did I last look at my policies and procedures?
  2. Has my business diversified or changed? If so, have my risk assessments, method statements and training been updated to reflect this?
  3. Can I prove to an enforcement agency that I am delivering and maintaining training, monitoring and supervision?

The content of this article is for general information only. For more information or advice, please contact Julie Gowland or Emily Jones of the Regulatory and Corporate Defence team at Birketts.