Health and safety challenges – failing to prepare is preparing to fail

Health and safety challenges – failing to prepare is preparing to fail

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that the total annual cost of injuries (in farming, forestry and horticulture) to society is approximately £190 million with around two-thirds of that being due to reportable injuries (£130 million), and fatalities accounting for one third (£55 million).

The HSE list the most common causes of death within the sector as:

  • falls from height;
  • being struck by moving vehicles;
  • asphyxiation or drowning;
  • being struck by moving or falling objects;
  • contact with machinery;
  • injury by an animal;
  • being trapped by something collapsing or overturning;
  • contact with electricity, nearly two-thirds of which involves overhead power lines.

However, employers in the agricultural sector are facing many additional health and safety issues as a result of the pandemic. Here we have answered some of the questions we have been asked the most in relation to Covid-19 over the past few months to help you navigate the complicated regulatory landscape.

1.   If a workplace is open, what steps should be taken to ensure it is Covid-19 secure?

  • A suitable and sufficient risk assessment.
  • Minimise risks wherever possible. Recent HSE guidance details useful measures which can be taken including social distancing, one way systems and the management of inbound and outbound goods. Personal protective equipment (PPE) may also be used if physical contact is unavoidable.

2.   Is a risk assessment required for any homeworkers and can we be held liable if an employee contracts Covid-19?

A risk assessment is required but only in respect of homeworking risks. For an employee to bring a successful claim against their employer, they would need to prove that their employer was negligent in the course of their employment, then the employer may be vicariously liable. The negligence must have caused or materially contributed to the employee contracting Covid-19.

3.   Is Covid-19 now a reportable disease under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)?

Yes. If one of the following has occurred, the HSE recommend a RIDDOR is submitted online:

  • If the accident at work has or could have released Covid-19;
  • A worker has been diagnosed as having Covid-19 due to occupational exposure; or
  • A worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to Covid-19.

4.   Do employees have the right to be notified if a colleague has suspected or contracted Covid-19?

There is no specific legal obligation. There is a balance required in relation to the duty of confidentiality to an employee and a statutory health and safety responsibility to other employees.

Accordingly, those working in the agricultural and farming industries need to expand on their health and safety policies to ensure the risks presented by Covid-19 are controlled. PPE is not seen as an acceptable answer to managing Covid-19 risks, as the effective management requires social distancing, hygiene, screens and employee partnering where necessary. Face coverings are not mandatory for employees although they should be worn indoors where social distancing is difficult.

Useful measures which can be taken to minimise the risk of injury or death during the Covid-19 pandemic include:

  • developing a Covid-19 response plan
  • keeping abreast of industry specific guidance on the HSE and Government websites (e.g. for seasonal workers and key workers) and carrying out testing where appropriate

The number of deaths in the workplace in the agricultural and farming sector is notoriously high compared with other industries in the United Kingdom. More than 50 people have died in farm-related accidents during the past 12 months according to a recent article in Farmers Weekly.

The added complications of ensuring compliance with Covid-19 regulations places a heavy burden on employers in the agriculture and forestry sectors. However the cost of non-compliance is a far greater risk given the level of monetary fines (based on company turnover) and potential imprisonment of directors which can now be handed down during sentencing at courts in Scotland. It is best for businesses to remember that failing to prepare is preparing to fail when it comes to matters of health and safety.

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