What are the inspections and why are they happening?

The Health and Safety Executive have recently announced that their inspection programme for 2019 will have a focus on farming and agriculture. This is no surprise, as the farming and agriculture sector faces many of the most common health and safety risks, including:

  • Working with heavy machinery, power tools and vehicles;
  • Working at height;
  • Manual handling and working with animals; and
  • Working with health risks such as asbestos, dusts and chemicals.

In fact, in 2018, the agricultural sector faced the highest rate of workplace injury across all sectors. Of the 144 workers fatally injured in 2017/18, 29 worked in agriculture.

A number of cases show the importance of health and safety in agriculture.

  • In 2015, a farm manager was jailed for manslaughter after a pair of young workers died after being sent into a low-oxygen environment to retrieve produce without protective equipment.
  • More recently in 2018, a farm was fined £100,000 after a worker was fatally struck by a tractor while moving straw; and
  • A land-owner was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter after a volunteer worker was killed by becoming entangled in a power take off shaft attached to a tractor.

What can happen following an inspection?

A potential HSE inspection can occur without notice and cannot be ignored, as they can have serious consequences:

  • If a breach of health and safety law is found, the HSE inspector may issue an enforcement notice, requiring action to be taken before work can continue;
  • An inspector can also choose to use their “Fee for Intervention” powers to charge business owners for their time spent inspecting and identifying issues (at a rate of £129 per hour)
  • Breaches can result in criminal prosecution causing significant financial and reputation damage to the business; and
  • Criminal prosecution can also be targeted at individuals within the business (especially directors and senior managers).

How should I react if I’m inspected?

HSE often ask for information to be provided during inspections on a voluntary basis. However, they also have substantial powers – where it is necessary to enforce health and safety law they have the power to:

  • Enter any premises;
  • Take measurements, samples, photographs and recordings;
  • Require the production of documents and records; and
  • Require people to give relevant information and answer questions

It is also very important to ensure you do not obstruct an investigation – doing so is a criminal offence, which will significantly increase the seriousness of the situation.

What if I receive an enforcement notice after an inspection?

If a breach is identified and an enforcement notice is served, it is worth carefully considering how to respond.

Following a recent change in the law, enforcement notices are more open to appeal than before, and it may be worthwhile to appeal a notice that is factually incorrect or mistaken.

If an appeal is inappropriate, it is still very important to consider the enforcement notice very carefully and respond properly. Failing to comply with a notice is a criminal offence, and an enforcement notice can be an indicator of further regulatory action to come.

What steps should I be taking?

The best way to deal with an HSE inspection is to ensure that your business is compliant with health and safety law. The best route to compliance is to ensure that:

1. You have identified the health and safety risks posed by your business;

2. You have designed and put in place systems to reduce those risks as far as reasonably possible; and

3. Those systems are regularly reviewed (and if necessary changed) to take account of new challenges, and to make sure they are actually working.

It may be beneficial to instruct an external expert to review your current systems to identify gaps and make improvements. A second pair of eyes can often spot missed opportunities that can improve safety on the farm.

If you receive a formal notification from HSE (either arranging a visit, an enforcement notice, or an invitation to an interview) you should consider taking legal advice as soon as possible.