David Lewis, a trustee of the 1,250-acre Hean Castle Estate in Pembrokeshire, shares his attitude to health and safety in terms of the estate’s 30-strong staff team and the hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to the estate every year.
I want to be able to sleep at night, knowing we’re doing everything we can to keep people safe.
The estate’s diverse mix of enterprises – including long-let and holiday let cottages, static caravan parks, a beach centre, a pedigree Hereford cattle herd, forestry and a retail firewood business – brings particular challenges, he says. “The legislation is constantly evolving and becoming more complex. Our starting point, however, is a very simple one: to keep the people who work here safe. We want to protect them in the best way we possibly can, rather than simply viewing health and safety as a tick-box exercise.”
In tandem with this is protecting the 300,000 or so members of the public who visit the estate, with many going to the Coppet Hall Beach Centre. Here, alongside a large pay-and-display car park and public toilets, is a watersports centre, restaurant, shop and café.
“The estate was very different a decade ago,” says David. “We didn’t have much interaction with the public, but we’ve got a huge footfall now. We realised we needed to embrace the leisure and tourism market and take advantage of our position on the coast near Saundersfoot in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Diversification will be ever-more important to estates as Basic Payment Scheme income falls, but this brings new health and safety considerations.
Start with a risk assessment
A good approach, he suggests, is a high-level risk assessment – ranking risks and then tackling them one by one, in priority order.
“You can’t necessarily do them all straight away, not least because some might be expensive. So, rank the likelihood of an issue arising, plus the severity of the consequences should it do so.”
One of the changes David has instigated is issuing staff with hi-viz top-halves to their uniforms. From polo shirts in summer to rain gear in winter, everyone from the farm team to the caravan park groundsmen wears branded hi-viz kit.
“It has become second nature, now that everyone has got used to it,” says David.
This, he explains, is an example of how measures can be effective if embedded into daily practice. Technology can facilitate this, too – the estate uses an app to help stay abreast of key checks, so everything from pre-start checks on tractors and weekly inspections of fire alarms and extinguishers is digitised and traceable on one system.
“Each head of department has a tablet with the app and, when they switch it on in the morning, it pops up with a list of things that need doing. The system logs the inspection time, along with key information. Th is also means you have an evidence trail so you can prove what you’ve done, should you be inspected.”
The estate has its own two-way UHF walkie-talkie system, with every staff member given a hand-held GPS-tracked radio with a panic button.
If anybody were to get into any difficulty, they could simply press that button, and it would sound an alarm and flag up their location on a screen in the estate office.
Safety was also a key consideration in the layout of a new cattle shed. Stock can be moved from the lying areas to the calving pens or handling system in walkways no wider than 12ft, so the cattle are never spilling into larger yards where they might turn round and come back on people.
“We have a large number of trees, plus significant areas of managed and unmanaged public access, both on roads and footpaths, including a busy stretch of the Wales Coast Path,” David adds.
“We undertake a bi-annual tree hazard risk assessment, with about 50% of the estate area inspected each year and
hundreds of ‘tagged’ trees monitored by a qualified arboricultural surveyor.”
A tailored approach
David’s advice to other estate owners is to find an adviser who understands rural businesses and not just construction.
You need someone who appreciates that one size doesn’t fit all, and who can solutions to fit your needs.
“When you’re running a busy and diverse estate, it’s difficult to be across every detail of health and safety in person, so it’s vital to know it’s all being taken care of. We’re mindful the penalties for getting it wrong are bigger, too.
“I also want peace of mind, which is why we have a monthly visit from our consultant. Each month, we focus on a particular aspect of the business, together with a ‘focus area’, such as staff training or contractor management.
“This way, each area is reviewed every six months, to check procedures are being followed and to amend our processes or update paperwork. It also gives a great opportunity for our staff to share their feedback and suggestions.”
CXCS consultant Darren Owens, who advises David, says rural businesses have made strides in health and safety, but still have progress to make.
Sadly, HSE figures show the average number of annual fatalities in agriculture, forestry and fishing in the five years to 2020 was 30, with moving vehicles, machinery, falls from height and farm animals frequent causes
“There is a lot of potential for finding solutions that aren’t cumbersome for estate owners and their staff, and that can be implemented simply and inexpensively. It’s about making health and safety work for you, rather than the other way round.”
Back at Hean Castle, David concludes: “Our team is our biggest asset, and ensuring that everyone goes home safely each night is our key priority.
“My overarching principle is that anybody – from any authority –should be able to turn up on the estate at any time and everything should be in place and in order in any aspect of the business. Health and safety are no different. The consequences of not getting it right – emotionally, legally and financially – can, as far too many people tragically find out, be horrendous.”