Farmers cannot afford to pay ‘lip service’ to health and safety inspections, says risk expert

Farmers cannot afford to pay 'lip service' to health and safety inspections, an agricultural expert

Farmers cannot afford to pay 'lip service' to health and safety inspections, an agricultural expert has warned. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Farmers in the East of England have been warned to dedicate time and resources to meeting health and safety standards – or risk severe penalties from government inspectors.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched its latest raft of targeted inspections, which will see 100 farms inspected in the region until March 2019, as part of continued efforts to crack down on the high rates of death and serious injury which blight the industry.

Richard Wade, a risk specialist for Farmers and Mercantile Insurance Brokers (FMIB), urged farmers to take workplace risk seriously.

'There are a number of factors that make managing risk a challenge – more farmers are having to work alone, to an older age, and with more high-powered machinery,' he said. 'More and more farmers are also under financial strain, so dedicating precious time and resources to managing risk may be a low priority for them – particularly if they are self-employed.

'But farmers cannot afford to simply pay lip service to health and safety.

'A lax attitude to health and safety policies, letting standards slip or ineffectively managing risk is a false economy; if breaches are found during inspections or after workplace incidents, farmers will find themselves in hot water, facing huge fines or even jail time.'

HSE figures show 33 people were killed on farms in 2017/18 – around 18 times higher than the all-industry fatal injury rate – and 13,000 people are estimated to suffer from a non-fatal injury – double the all-industry rate.

READ MORE: Students face up to farming's fatal dangers and mental health risks During farm visits, inspectors will look at key risk areas, including machinery, falls from height, and livestock – which account for many of the fatal and non-fatal injuries – as well as child safety.

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Mr Wade said farmers should also consider the tougher penalties imposed on those who breach health and safety laws.

Following a shake-up to sentencing guidelines, farming companies with a turnover of up to £2m who are found to have breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 can now expect to pay fines of up to £450,000. Individuals found guilty of breaching the law can be handed unlimited fines or face a two-year prison sentence.

Last year, a Cambridgeshire farmer was fined £400,000 after a worker died following a tractor crash. It was found that the brakes of the attached trailer had not been adequately maintained.

In another incident, two Suffolk farming partners were fined £9,500 following a fatal overhead power line strike.

'These tougher penalties 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,' added Mr Wade.