A leading agricultural risk expert fears that producers are risking severe financial repercussions, and even jail, because they are unaware of tougher penalties for health and safety breaches.
Lycetts Risk Management Services’ Richard Wade is worried there is a lack of knowledge among the farming community around The Health and Safety Sentencing Guidelines – particularly the fact that fines are now based on turnover.
Fines of up to £450,000
Since February 2016, farming companies with a turnover of up to £2 million who are found to have breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 can expect to pay fines of up to £450,000.
Larger businesses – with turnovers more than £50 million – can face fines of up to £10 million. Individuals found guilty of breaching the law can be handed unlimited fines or face a two-year prison sentence.
Judges could previously only impose custodial sentences in very specific circumstances, with fines in the lower courts limited to £20,000.
Worker fatal injury
Agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury – 7.61 per 100,000 people – which is 18 times higher than the all-industry rate. In 2016/17, 30 people were killed in agriculture.
Although not all fatalities on farms are a result of health and safety breaches, these figures highlight how risky an industry it is.
“Health and safety breaches can have very serious, and even fatal, consequences and it is only right that they are dealt with appropriately. Anything to improve health and safety in one of the most dangerous industries is certainly welcomed and supported,” says Mr Wade.
“But our feedback from producers suggests that many may not fully comprehend how business-critical a breach can be. It is no longer a slap on a wrist and a fine amounting to hundreds of pounds. The guidelines are meant to act as a deterrent – and farmers should be aware that lapses in judgement, or a failure to take a proactive approach to safety, could cripple their operations.”
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation
A company in Essex was fined £120,000 earlier this year after an employee was seriously injured by a chainsaw while felling trees. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the man had not been trained to operate the chainsaw, nor was he wearing any personal protective equipment. There was no supervision and no proper planning had been put in place.
A company in the South West was fined £115,000 after a worker fell from height at a farm. The worker fell through a fragile skylight and broke his back.