The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will be undertaking work within the agriculture sector this autumn to raise awareness of the risks during "potato harvest" season. Potato growers have been urged to step up their accident prevention measures this harvest season – and to expect visits from health and safety inspectors.

The HSE is trying to improve standards within this sector and challenge the perception that risk is an acceptable part of the job. The latest initiative will see inspectors making unannounced visits to farms that grow, pick and process potatoes during the autumn season. The visits will ensure that risks posed during harvesting are being controlled and that measures are in place to protect farmers and their workers.

The new initiative follows the recent HSE statistics showing that there have been 30 deaths on British farms in the past 12 months. Serious injuries that occurred during potato harvesting season included entanglement with machinery, being struck/ run over by vehicles, or falls from height.

HSE inspectors will be checking that:

  • Haulm and clod rollers are properly guarded
  • PTO (power take-off) guards are in good condition
  • Harvester operators have been trained
  • All drivers follow Safe Stop machinery guidelines
  • Work equipment is adequately maintained
  • Moving vehicles are segregated from pedestrians
  • Risks or falls from trailers and in potato stores are managed

Safe Stop Campaign

In 2013 the Farm Safety Partnership launched the Safe Stop campaign, to draw attention to the dangers of farm vehicles and machinery.

In the last decade, nearly 40 farm machinery operators have been killed when they were run over by their own vehicle after leaving the cab without applying a working handbrake.

Another 30 people were killed by becoming entangled in machinery, and many more were seriously injured. The Farm Safety Partnership says 80% of these occurred when workers were carrying out adjustments while the machinery was left running.

The campaign highlights the importance of the following basic principles:

  • Engage handbrake
  • Put controls in neutral
  • Switch off engine
  • Remove key

Do you require support ahead of the inspections?

Sadly farming has one of the worst safety records when compared to other sectors. Farmers and farm workers, which include family members, work long hours with dangerous machinery, vehicles and animals, and often do so alone.

What is particularly sad is that many incidents, fatalities and serious injuries could be avoided through well planned, risk-assessed activities.

Rick Brunt, HSE’s head of agriculture, said: “The risks during potato harvesting are well-known but the precautions are straightforward. Farmers and their employees need to work together to make sure equipment is safe and work is well-planned. This inspection initiative is about ensuring those participating in any harvesting activity remain safe and go home from their work healthy.

“HSE is calling on anyone involved with the potato harvesting season to do what they can to reduce the likelihood of incidents on their farms. By following guidance freely-available on the HSE website, farmers will be ensuring that risks are adequately controlled.”

There is a lot of advice and guidance for the industry from insurers and from the HSE direct.

If you employ more than five people you must document your risk assessments and safety management arrangements.