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Farm safety - HSE plans major inspection campaign - 10 fatalities in February 2017 alone

Farmers Weekly reported a shock rise in farm deaths with 10 in a single month.  We understand a further 3 occurred in the first week of March, giving a dreadful statistic of 13 fatalities in a 5 week period.  This is much worse than “average” figures of approximately 3 per month.

It is no surprise the HSE’s Business Plan for 2017-18 includes a targeted programme of approximately 20,000 proactive inspections… This will deliver 7 major inspection campaigns (each with at least 500 inspections). Of the six sectors to be targeted, agriculture tops the list.

On top of these stark figures and the promise of proactive inspections are new Sentencing Guidelines for health & safety offences.  Any business which has an accident within the meaning of medium or high culpability can expect a dramatically increased fine.

The guidelines require an assessment of culpability and risk of harm which is then applied to tables based on turnover.  Their impact on high turnover companies is striking, for example:-

  • 19 fines over £1 million in 2016-2017, compared with none in 2014-2015. 
  • In January 2016 retailer Wilkinson were fined £200,000 over a fatality. In a comparable case this year they were fined a massive £2.2 million.

Fines for fatalities against businesses with turnovers under £2 million may seem modest in comparison, but may not be so modest for a small family business, for example:-

  • Maurice Mason - £50,000 plus £22,000 costs - death in silo during cleaning. 
  • Toft Partnership - £60,000 plus £29,417 costs - fatal roof fall. The farm manger involved was responsible for health & safety, but his employer should have done more to raise awareness of safe working practices.
  • Lincoln Proteins - £66,000 plus £25,286 costs - fatal entrapment between vehicles (£8m turnover).

In medium turnover businesses the fines go up:-

  • Feed manufacturer WL Duffield - reportedly a £40.1 m turnover - £50,000 plus costs after worker lost a finger trapped in valve with missing protective cover.

How should businesses respond to this new sentencing regime? There is a massive difference between a “low” culpability starting point fine of £130,000 compared with £950,000 for “high” culpability (based on medium turnover). Businesses need to address their exposure to “high” culpability fines by eliminating “high” culpability behaviour, such as:-

  • Ignoring standards
  • Breaches over a long period of time
  • “Systemic” failings

and instead ensure

  • Effective health and safety procedures
  • Recommendations are implemented
  • They audit for non-compliances to avoid findings of “systemic failure”.

A good start is a review of the health & safety policy required under Section 2(3) HSWA-  and to examine how far it is being put into practice daily. Understanding management of health & safety is key- HSE Guidance is available such as Managing for health and safety (HSG65) and Leading Health & Safety At Work (INDG 417 rev1).

Andrew Clarke is a health & safety and regulatory solicitor at Gullands [email protected] 01622 678341