Agricultural and rural environments present significant health and safety risks that must be carefully managed and mitigated by employers and landowners operating in the sector. This was highlighted after two deaths led to prosecution following inquiries by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
In February, a farmer was for follow-up after a tragic fatal incident on farmland in Leeds. An 83-year-old man was trampled and killed by cattle as he followed a public right of way through a farm with his wife, who was also seriously injured. The cattle were with their calves, greatly increasing the risk to any member of the public accessing the field. The farmland owner pleaded guilty to breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1974 for failing to implement measures to mitigate the risks caused by his livestock. He received a suspended 12-week prison sentence and had to pay a fine of £878, plus £7,820.30 in costs.
In March, a farmer was for follow-up after her four-year-old nephew was crushed after falling from a farm vehicle. Children under the age of 13 are prohibited from riding or driving vehicles used on farms. The farmer pleaded guilty to breaching the 1974 Act. He was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison (suspended for 18 months), community order (which included 250 hours of unpaid work) and ordered to pay costs of more than £5,000.
These cases followed the publication by the HSE of statistics detailing an average of 34 fatal injuries among employees in the agriculture, fishing and forestry sectors between 2018/19 and 2020/21, and an average of 12,000 non-fatal injuries over the same period. It is essential that players in this sector are aware of the risks involved and do everything possible to avoid being in breach of the health and safety rules intended to protect their employees and the public.
What are my obligations as a landowner or employer?
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 1974 etc. defines a number of obligations applicable to all employers, including those in the agricultural sector. Employers owe a duty of care to their employees and to “persons other than their employees”, ie the general public. Although the duties owed to employees are more specific, a general duty is owed to employers/property owners not to expose the general public to health and safety risks.
This general duty places a general requirement on farm owners to ensure that no part of their property poses a risk to the health and safety of the general public. A number of risks can arise from public access to agricultural land. Landlords of such premises should carry out a regular assessment of the risks associated with their land and any necessary mitigating measures that need to be taken to prevent the public from being harmed as a result of these risks.
What are the most frequent causes of accidents in the agricultural environment?
It appears from HSE statistics that the main causes of accidents in the agricultural sector can be categorized as follows:
- slips, trips and falls, especially from heights;
- livestock injuries;
- injuries caused by contact with agricultural machinery; and or
- being struck by an object, whether moving or stationary (including being struck by a moving vehicle).
What steps can landowners and employers take to manage the risks?
Agriculture is a complex working environment and, given the risks posed by large machinery, operational decision-making on farms should place much greater emphasis on the health and safety of farmers and farm workers. .
Farmers should not be lulled into a false sense of security or complacency, or adopt a “it won’t happen to me” mentality. There are relatively simple steps they can take to reduce the risk of injury:
- disconnect power to vehicles/machines before carrying out our repairs;
- keep workers a safe distance from moving vehicles;
- ensure that workers are kept at a safe distance during loading/unloading operations;
- regular maintenance of agricultural structures and land;
- use safe and appropriate equipment when working at height; and
- keep cows/calves away from fields with public trails.
Obviously, the focus should be on effective risk management. However, it would appear that lessons are not being learned in the agricultural sector in the same way as in others. There are also implications for insurance coverage where the risk has not been managed effectively.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.