The HSE said it was encouraging to see machinery safety methods had improved and working at height on farms had been ‘either totally eliminated or tightly controlled’.
Inspections of safety precautions surrounding machinery, falls, Safe Stop and transport by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) during the potato harvest found the industry was committed to reversing its poor safety record but still required more work.
Whilst machinery safety methods had improved – including increased used of the Safe Stop procedure – not all farms were sampling and levelling potato boxes at ground level to avoid working at height and ‘too many farms’ had drivers not wearing seatbelts.
Inspectors however did say it was encouraging to see workers being given good instructions to help them work safely, through toolbox talks at the start of the season, and said it was impressive to see that on many farms work at height was either totally eliminated or tightly controlled.
It came following reports of five incidents over the potato harvest period last year, with one fatal injury after a fall whilst working at height.
A HSE spokesman said: “On a positive front, it looks like farmers, and those working on farms, are realising that we all have a duty to protect workers and many are now taking the right steps towards better safety.
“Increasingly those on farms are thinking about safety first so the awareness and knowledge is there, it is now just about acting on it.
“Britain’s farms have come a long way but there is still a long way to go – one death is a death too many. We all have a responsibility for workplace health and safety and a part to play in helping Great Britain work well.”
Throughout the inspection, inspectors were checking that haulm and clod rollers were properly guarded; PTO guards were in good condition; harvester operators had been trained; all drivers followed Safe Stop; work equipment was adequately maintained and the right access equipment was used for working at height.
Inspectors said they were impressed with farms that segregated pedestrians from vehicles, actively worked to make sure workers did not contact overhead power lines and ensured good advice and information was readily accessible for workers.
Inspectors were pleased to find many farms had carried out maintenance on machinery before the season started, including making sure equipment was ready to go and not likely to break down during harvest. By taking these steps, farmers made sure workers were not going to get entangled with the moving parts of machines during repairs or when clearing blockages.
The HSE said it was positive to see many farms had reduced, and in some cases eliminated, the need to work at height by doing simple things like sampling and levelling potato boxes at ground level. Many farmers were using the right equipment for working at height, such as tower scaffolds or purpose-built access platforms, but there were still instances where inspectors had to take action to stop unsafe work at height.
Inspectors were encouraged to hear most farmers visited were aware of the Safe Stop steps before carrying out any work on or around machinery.
Although many farms were doing the right things to effectively manage vehicle movements and ensure people would not be run over by moving vehicles, inspectors found there were too many drivers not wearing seatbelts. They said the issue must be addressed immediately.