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Farm Safety Week: reduce your risks

Farm Safety Week takes place this year from 19 July. NatWest Mentor Health and Safety Consultant Cathy Ricketts shares her insight on how SMEs in the agriculture sector can take steps towards creating a safer workplace.

Last updated: 19 Jul 2021 6 min read

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Health and safety is a fundamental requirement of a sustainable farming business. Yet, with the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) latest figures for fatalities in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector increasing in 2020/21, safety is a cause for concern.

With the release of the 2020/21 figures, farmers can expect to see increased activity from the HSE in the coming months, so business owners should ensure they’re well prepared.

What to expect from a HSE inspection

An HSE inspection is usually a minimum of two hours (considerably longer for an accident investigation), so allow time for the visit. Remember to listen to what the inspector is telling you – it’s perfectly acceptable to take notes.

Get all your paperwork ready well in advance of the visit. Have a map of your farm with key points marked on it, and if you’ve documented risk assessments, have copies of these to show the inspector. If not, be prepared to explain how you control the risks on your farm. You should also provide evidence of training, particularly with regards to any all-terrain vehicles or telehandlers. And make sure you have Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) reports and maintenance records available.

The farmyard and any workshops should be in a tidy state, so make that call to the scrap merchant if you need to declutter, then carry out checks on machinery and equipment, including:

  • making sure tractor power take-off (PTO) guards are in good condition
  • that the livestock handling systems work effectively
  • that tractor cabs are complete with mirrors, lights and unbroken steps and are reasonably clean
  • that the bale stack is safe
  • that slurry storage is securely signed and fenced to prevent accidental access and that staff are aware of the dangers of slurry gas
  • that risks around dust inhalation, welding fumes, contact with chemicals and manual handling are controlled

Remember that the HSE can serve enforcement notices and will charge a fee for intervention where it finds a material breach. Also, be aware it has a legal right to “examine and investigate” so you cannot refuse this request.

Protecting the public

One of the most common questions we receive from farmers concerns the issue of public rights of way across their land. With the summer holidays in full swing – and some farms taking advantage of the extension to 56 days for permitted use of land for non-agricultural ventures – it is expected more people will be in the countryside.

Where the public right of way runs through your farmyard, ensure the route is clearly signed and vehicle warning signs are displayed

In England and Wales (there are different rules in Scotland), the farmer is responsible for maintaining the right of way on their land. Here are a few things farmers can do to prevent accidents involving the public from occurring on their farm:

  • Where the public right of way runs through your farmyard, ensure the route is clearly signed and vehicle warning signs are displayed. It may be obvious to you but for walkers this may not be the case.
  • Put up vehicle vision mirrors on blind corners, and train your workers to be mindful of members of the public in the working area. Segregate the public from vehicles where possible.
  • Protect your equipment by not leaving valuable and expensive equipment on display. 
  • Ensure that where you are grazing cattle in a field with public access, the cattle selected are not with calf or boisterous.
  • It is offence to allow a bull in a field crossed by a public right of way, but there are exemptions where the bull is under 10 months of age, does not belong to a recognised dairy breed and is at large in any field in which cows or heifers are also present. Display the yellow-and-black ‘bull in field’ warning signage – don’t forget to remove the signage when the bull is moved.
  • If possible, fence cattle from the path either with permanent or temporary fencing. If using electric fencing, add electric fence warning signage at intervals of 50 metres to 100 metres, and display cattle warning signage on entrances to rights of way where cattle are grazing.
  • Make sure gates, fences and other boundaries are secure. If you are farming on arable land, remember paths at the edge of the field must not be cultivated and any paths that run across fields must be reinstated after the field operation is complete.
  • If you want to move a footpath, you will need to apply to your local highways authority.

A safer way to diversify your farm business 

Diversification is a popular and, in many cases, profitable addition to a farming business. Projects range from traditional holiday lets, treetop and glamping accommodation, farm shops, workshop letting, bike scrambling, farm gyms, public events, social farming and children’s nurseries.

As with other areas of the business, it pays to keep on top of what’s required in terms of health and safety to start, remember the people you are inviting on to your premises may know nothing about farming and the potential hazards.

Use the following risk-assessment process: 

  • Where possible, segregate people from moving vehicles and potential farm hazards.
  • Introduce defined walkways, crossing points, speed limits and clear signage.
  • Take out adequate and appropriate public liability insurance and review this regularly.
  • Ensure you document the risks and controls that you are implementing.
  • Keep reviewing your arrangements as the business evolves. For example, a farm trail that introduces a climbing frame or a farm shop that opens a cafe has now introduced new hazards to its original business and a risk assessment review is required.
  • If you’re letting properties/accommodation, ensure that fire risk assessments are completed and there are documented terms and conditions in the letting agreements or leases.

Additionally, don’t let holidaymakers/tenants wander into your workplace – establish clear boundaries. If you’re holding events or attracting people to your farm, put aside a suitable area for parking – in some cases, you may need to appoint a professional company to manage parking for you.

And, if your diversification business involves food, don’t forget that food safety will be another area of consideration. You should also make contact with your local environmental health team at the earliest opportunity.

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