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Farmers warned of ‘crippling’ consequences of Health and Safety breaches

PUBLISHED: 18:09 07 December 2017 | UPDATED: 18:09 07 December 2017

Ploughing in a Norfolk field. Photograph Simon Parker

Ploughing in a Norfolk field. Photograph Simon Parker

Archant

Farm businesses in East Anglia risk crippling fines and even jail because they are unaware of tougher penalties for health and safety breaches, according to an agricultural risk expert.

Richard Wade of Lycetts Risk Management. Picture: Lycetts Richard Wade of Lycetts Risk Management. Picture: Lycetts

Richard Wade, of Fakenham-based Lycetts Risk Management Services, said there is a lack of knowledge among the farming community about new sentencing guidelines – particularly that fines are now based on turnover.

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 can expect to pay fines of up to £450,000.

Larger businesses with turnovers over £50m can face fines of up to £10m, and individuals found guilty of breaching the law can face a two-year prison sentence.

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

“Health and safety breaches can have very serious, and even fatal, consequences and it is only right that they are dealt with appropriately,” he said. “Anything to improve health and safety in one of the most dangerous industries is certainly welcomed and supported.

“But our feedback from farmers suggests many may not fully comprehend how business-critical a breach can be. It is no longer a slap on a wrist and a fine amounting to hundreds of pounds. Farmers who are lax with their health and safety procedures can expect to feel the full force of the law.

“Now a number factors are taken into account when deciding punishment, including the level of culpability, the risk of causing harm and the level of potential harm, and the turnover of the offending business.

“These guidelines are meant to act as a deterrent – and farmers should be aware that lapses in judgement, or a failure to take a proactive approach to safety, could cripple their operations.”

Recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutions have included two Norfolk companies being fined a total of £214,400 after a worker suffered a serious electric shock when the drilling rig he was working on came into contact with a power line on farmland at Felmingham in April 2014.

And earlier this year, another Norfolk company was fined £50,000 after a 21-year-old farm worker drowned in a grain silo at Fincham in 2014.

Mr Wade said: “These cases – and the significantly higher fines – serve to illustrate how seriously court are taking health and safety breaches on farms and highlight what farmers can expect if they cut corners or take shortcuts.

“Farmers need to prioritise compliance with the health and safety regulations and make sure they are doing all they can do to protect their workers – or face the consequences.”

For more advice on farm safety, visit the HSE website.

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