The guidelines surrounding health and safety regulations have changed. With farming remaining as the most dangerous industry in which to work, Olivia Midgley looks at what the Sentencing Council’s new rules could mean for employers.
Agriculture continues to be one of the UK’s most dangerous industry to work in.
Last year, 37 people lost their lives in farming related incidents. About 14,000 agricultural workers suffer serious injury each year.
According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics, the number of fatalities in the farming industry per 1,000 workers was the highest of any sector in 2014/15, six times that of construction.
Now, new sentencing rules mean farmers and landowners could face tougher penalties for breaching health and safety laws.
Under the Sentencing Council’s new guidelines, fines for breaching health and safety laws must have a ‘real economic impact’ on the offending business and should not be seen as a cheaper alternative to taking the correct precautions.
Any punishments handed down will also have to take account of the level of harm, culpability and an organisation’s turnover. For the majority of farms and estates that means penalties of between £50 and £450,000 could be possible.
Oliver Dale, managing director of farm safety specialists Safety Revolution, said: “Generally, farmers are addressing health and safety in a positive, proactive way.
“The majority of employers treat the issue as they would other disciplines – such as finances, agronomy and nutrition. They recognise that it’s an important area that they need to get right for the overall success of their business.
“However, the facts are incontrovertible – statistically farming is still one of the most dangerous industry to work in. As a result, employers need to be aware of the changes to the guidelines.
"It’s likely to mean a dramatic increase in the sentencing of health and safety offences with the aim of having a real financial impact to bring penalties in line with those imposed on other institutions.”
Mr Dale said the value of compensation claims could now be in the region of £8-9 million nationwide.
“If a worker is injured, the employer will likely have to make some form of payment. That could be based on caring for that employee for their entire life if the injury is life-changing,” he added. “Just as important is the emotional effect. Many workers will be long time employees and good friends. It can be very difficult. It’s therefore vital to ensure that all the correct procedures are followed.
“Fortunately, there’s more than one approach. Quite often many issues can be addressed with simple steps.”
The Sentencing Council’s definitive guideline to health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences says: “The fine should meet, in a fair and proportionate way, the objectives of punishment, deterrence and the removal of gain derived through the commission of the offence; it should not be cheaper to offend than to take the appropriate precautions.
“The fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation.”
Penalties range from £50 to £10m depending on the severity of the offence and the size of the organisation. For the most serious, fines of up to £10m are envisaged for large organisations (those with a turnover greater than £50m), up to £4m for medium-sized organisations (turnover between £10m-£50m), up to £1.6m for small organisations (£2m to £10m) and up to £450,000 for micro businesses (less than £2m). For corporate manslaughter the penalty for large organisations may be up to £20m.
Aggravating factors such as relevant past convictions, cost cutting at the expense of safety and a poor health and safety record may also be taken into account, along with any mitigating factors, such as a high level of co-operation with the investigation, self-reporting and acceptance of responsibility.
Many farmers recognise the dangers these pose and are switching to Utility Task Vehicles (UTV), which are fitted with a seatbelt, roll bar and screen protection.
If quad bikes are used, helmets should be worn at all times.
Speed is the number one cause of accidents, so ensure they are used appropriately.
Mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPS) are the best way to work at height.
Man cages and ladders are seen as high risk and should only be used as a last resort.
Employees should work in pairs and receive adequate training.
This is an ever-growing issue – particularly as farms are employing less staff. Effective communication is key.
Employees should tell others where they will be, what they are doing and how long it is likely to take.
Knowing map references is also useful, as often it will be the air ambulance that arrives at the scene of an accident.
Mobile phones should also be kept charged and within reach at all times. Where reception is poor, use two-way radios.
Inexperienced operators must have sufficient training.
Let the driver undertake supervised yard work, or practise on private roads before going onto the public highway.
For those working in yards where vehicle movements take place, measures such as wearing high-vis jackets can be introduced.
A key priority. Most agricultural machinery has statutory training for the operators and often people are unaware of the refresher training required, usually every three or five years.
Keep records up to date and set reminders for when courses are due.
The person training must also be formally trained and certificated as a trainer.