Not all fun at the Farm

Kelly Langworthy and Rebecca Bowley

Ringrose Law

The farming industry represents approximately 1.8% of the workforce in Great Britain and being a farmer or a farm hand is renowned for being a hazardous occupation. Farm Safety Week recently took place between 6th and 10th July 2015. This is an initiative led by the Farm Safety Foundation annually and is supported by a number of organisations. The focus is on providing practical advice and guidance on a number of topics to farmers and their workers.

Despite a big focus on safety in the industry, farming and agriculture remains one of the most risky industries in the UK with the highest risk of fatal injuries.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have recently released provisional statistics for fatal accidents in the workplace for 2014/15. The figures show that 33 workers (14 of whom were employees and 19 were self-employed) were killed on farms, between 1st April 2014 and 31st March 2015, in addition to 4 members of the public.

Overall, the rate of fatal injuries in agriculture was calculated as 9.12 per 100,000 workers, compared to 1.62 per 100,000 workers in construction and 0.55 in manufacturing. The rate of fatal injuries in agriculture remains higher than any other industry. Over the past 5 years, the average number of people killed in agriculture per year is 33, the same figure as this year.

Farming and landownership present a large number of problems and risks for the professional farmer, from accidents involving employees to visitors to their premises. Farmer’s need to be aware of the potential pit falls that can occur from a minor health and safety oversight to an all-out breach of legislation, which can have devastating consequences.

There are various kinds of farms from the standard dairy farm to the ever growing amount of solar farms. One thing is clear from the cases that we handle and that is, on a farm there is a very close working relationship between the employee and the employer. There is often a worry that by bringing a claim it may harm the business that they fight year on year to keep running. Whilst there are always permanent staff on farms, when the harvest begins or crop becomes ready to pick, temporary seasonal staff are generally employed and often because of this accidents can occur either as a result of the lack of experience, guidance, proper training or because the training is not in the correct language for the employee to understand.

The biggest percentage of fatalities was caused by farm equipment, with workers being run over or struck by the equipment and by cattle crushing or trampling the workers. Other common causes of injuries and fatalities on farms include slips, trips and falls, contact with moving machinery, falls from height, and drowning and asphyxiation.


Cattle handling accidents

The HSE reported in January 2015 that a 75 year old worker was crushed by a bull after the safety failings of his employer. The worker was moving cows and the bull into a cubicle shed at the farm. His employer had failed to plan against the risks posed by working with cattle which lead to the workers death.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states that employers should ensure that work equipment is maintained in safe condition, this is particularly relevant when handling animals. To reduce the risk of injury to employees, as well as visitors, when handling cattle employers should ensure there are proper handling facilities which are well maintained and in good working order, a race and crush suitable for the animals and there should be safe escape routes.

There is always a risk from crushing, kicking and butting by cattle, the risk being greater if the animals have not been handled frequently. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended) requires employers to assess and control risks from work activities so far as is reasonably practicable. The risk assessment should identify the hazards to employees and to those visiting the farm, consider the likelihood that the hazard will cause harm and should enable them to plan, introduce and monitor preventative measures to ensure that risks are controlled at all times. Workers should be trained to ensure that they are competent in handling animals. Guidance recommends that cattle should only be handled by those over 13 years of age and under 65.

Certain jobs may also increase the risk of injury, for example, veterinary work. This has been highlighted even more so this month by the release of the results of the ‘Voice of the Veterinary Profession’ Survey by the British Veterinary Association. The survey revealed that over half of vets working on farms have suffered injuries in the last 12 months, with 18.8% of these injuries being classed as very or quite severe.


Moving vehicles

As recognised by the recent HSE figures moving and overturning vehicles remains one the most common of fatal accidents in agriculture. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) apply to vehicle activity on a farm.

The vehicles should be able to move around safely, they should be properly inspected and maintained and the individuals maneuvering the vehicles should be appropriately trained. Things to consider include whether the vehicles and equipment used were fit and suitable for the job in hand, what maximum load and speed the brakes were designed to operate and if any load the vehicle was carrying was stable and secure.

As would be expected due to the nature of the work and the machinery, vehicles and equipment used on a daily basis, farming accidents are unfortunately all too common. The above points highlight factors that should be taken into consideration when assessing liability and some of the Regulations that should be considered when dealing with farming accident claims. Hopefully this time next year, with the increased focus on safety in farming and agriculture there will be a reduction in the number of fatalities in the industry.


References: – Health and Safety Executive Statistics on fatal injuries in the workplace in Great Britain 2015– Voice of the Veterinary Profession Survey by the British Veterinary Association 2015

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