“Today when I am at work on the farm I plan to be involved in a work incident whereby I, one of my colleagues, or a member of the public are hurt.”
No reasonable farmer would ever plan or act on that basis.
However, if we turn that around, what are farmers doing by way of planning (and actions) to ensure there is no farm incident whereby the farmer, a colleague, or a member of the public is hurt?
As my colleague, Kerrie, has said in her recent piece, the statistics continue to show this sector as the one with the highest fatality risk.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics also show that most injuries in this sector are suffered by those who are self-employed. When it is a co-worker/employee who is injured it is usually a family member.
So those suffering these injuries are frequently the farmers in control of the work or their family members. Something has to change and this farm safety week the focus is making farm safety a lifestyle and not a slogan.
For this lifestyle change there needs to be a change in mind-set.
It can happen and has happened elsewhere historically.
This mind-set change and change in actions was apparent in the UK offshore oil and gas sector following the Piper Alpha disaster.
More recently, we can see significant lifestyle change around the effect of public space smoking or the effect of lowering the alcohol driving limit in Scotland.
Much of these changes were government/regulation led, but given the nature of farming and forestry with remote working, self-employed or family member employees, being realistic, the onus is on individual farmers and the industry as a whole to lead the change with support from the HSE, insurance brokers, insurers, lawyers etc.
So what do farmers need to change?
Safety must become part of the plan – safety first not safety last.
The first stage should always be about avoiding risks altogether and where risks cannot be avoided taking steps to plan and prepare so that any remaining risks are minimised. If the risks are not avoided altogether you should consider what risk of injury remains and then how injuries or losses can be mitigated (limited) as much as possible.
For example, ensuring there is back up/support, wearing hard hats, wearing seat belts, high visibility vests, ear protectors, eye protectors and so forth.
If there is a change in circumstances which means the plan needs to be reviewed – take time, review it and make the change. Of course, time pressures, financial pressures and pressures which are specific to agriculture e.g. weather, livestock, crops etc. can add additional pressure but these are things which can be considered, re-assessed and planned around.
By its nature, farm working will involve a wide variety of different tasks and activities.
Advice and support can be obtained via the Health & Safety Executive, insurance brokers or insurers themselves, friends and co-workers in the sector (ask them what they think). Even your lawyers (if they know their stuff!) can give guidance in relation to things which may assist in preventing risky operations and where the risks are only minimised, what steps can be taken to mitigate risk of loss.
Some things to consider when planning:-
Are you comfortable with your training and expertise to do the task? What could go wrong? If you can’t avoid the risk what mitigation measures are there and/or how will you get support? Do you have the correct, properly maintained equipment to do the job?
Similar points apply if you have family members, employees or casual labour assisting – communicate the plan and ask for their input at the planning phase. Employees are more likely to stick to a plan which they were involved in preparing – rather than one which has been imposed upon them.
When dealing with individuals who are not workers, you are not going to be training them or giving them guidance on planning or equipment but you can alert members of the public to risks using signage and limiting access by closing/locking gates. When leaving worksites take a moment to consider what risks are there if a member of the public came on site? Would the risks be increased if that person was elderly or a child?
So how do farmers and the industry change?
Writing about changing a habit is easy but changing a habit takes hard work and implementing the change then repeating the change until it becomes engrained. Whatever the number of repetitions to change the habit, as mentioned above, this change needs the action of farmers with willing support from the HSE, insurers and others.
Cost and time
Although this may sound expensive you may well be surprised as to how cost effectively you can buy a high visibility vest, hard hat or other personal protective equipment these days. As mentioned above there is advice, training and other support available too. Remember though, plans, risk assessments, training/guidance notes, hard hats etc. don’t work if stuck in a drawer or a cupboard. They need to be used, referred to, maintained and updated.
We are all under pressure of time and it is the one commodity we are not getting any more of.
As a lawyer who routinely investigates industrial incidents I can assure you that the time taken and investment to prevent an incident is time and money well spent compared to the delay and expense in the event of an incident. Leaving aside the emotional tragedy and economic effect of loss of life or severe injury the further repercussions of an incident should not be underestimated. HSE enforcement could involve a shut-down of operations and if a prosecution or claim follows there may be civil liabilities or penalties, fines (which cannot be insured against) or even imprisonment.
As a defence lawyer, if the worst occurs and (notwithstanding the prevention and mitigation steps) something goes wrong, if I can lead evidence to show the HSE or the Court that this farm (individual, organisation or partnership) takes health and safety seriously, is aware of its responsibilities and has formed a habit and culture of safe operations, the risk of prosecution or liability may well be avoided or at the very least limited.