Rural insurer Cornish Mutual and South West legal firm Stephens Scown LLP want to raise awareness so that agricultural employers understand their duties towards independent contractors and temporary workers under health and safety laws.
The message comes as part of Cornish Mutual’s new ‘Farmsafe’ initiative - the rural insurance firm is teaming up with Stephens Scown to provide specialist advice for the region’s landowners.
Both The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 set out requirements for employers and individuals to ensure that proper provision is made for health and safety at work.
Cornish Mutual and Stephens Scown are now urging farmers in the Westcountry to keep their health and safety management systems under review with regular audits.
Alan Goddard, managing director of Cornish Mutual, says: “Farmers who take their obligations seriously are not likely to be in breach of the law, but there’s no doubt the farming community should be aware of the potential for a prosecution which stems from serious management failings. Agricultural employers are not immune to health and safety laws and when accidents happen they can potentially have devastating consequences including death, prison and the end of a business. We know that agriculture has the worst record of any industry when it comes to deaths and serious injuries and we want to help improve this situation.”
There were eight deaths in the workplace in the South West during 2010/11 and over 2,000 employees suffered major injuries. In July last year, an HSE investigation was launched after a farm worker was killed near Falmouth when a power cable was severed by machinery he was using and in March 2010, a Cornish teenager was accidently killed after falling into a slurry pit in his tractor.
Following a recent change in the law, a business can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter when there is an incident in the workplace involving the death of an individual, as a result of serious management failures, resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.
Marie Ashton, employment lawyer and head of HRExpress with Stephens Scown LLP, says: “Health and safety laws apply to all employers, whether they have taken on permanent full-time staff or temporary workers just for the spring or summer. Farmers and landowners must ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all employees and there are a number of obligations on them.
“These include things such as having a written health and safety policy, making sure you regularly consult with employees, carrying out proper and adequate risk assessments, having adequate first-aid arrangements and emergency procedures in place, as well as providing information, instruction, training and supervision.”
There are also working time regulations and specific legal provisions for particular types of work such as exposure to noise and vibration, working at height, manual handling and the use of work equipment and machinery. Farmers also have a responsibility to report any incident under The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).
Marie adds: “Anyone who directly employs teams of agricultural workers needs to have a licence from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and will only be eligible if they meet the GLA’s standards and show they can take care of the health and safety of workers. Gangmasters who operate without a licence or those who use the services of an unlicensed provider are liable to prosecution, fines or imprisonment.”
Alan Goddard comments: “Employers need to make sure they eliminate risks and communicate with their workforce to ensure they understand their own responsibilities for ensuring their health and safety and that of their colleagues. This might include making provision for those whose first language is not English.
“It’s also a good idea to have public liability and employers’ liability insurance, which includes the legal costs of defending your company or organisation against action taken under the new manslaughter legislation. Employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement, except in a few circumstances, to provide compensation to employees in situations where their employer is responsible for injury or death.”
Cornish Mutual has further guidance on farm safety available at: www.cornishmutual.co.uk/farmsafe. For more information on Stephens Scown visit: www.stephens-scown.co.uk.
Further advice and guidance on health and safety law and specific obligations can be found at www.hse.gov.uk. Licensing standards for gangmasters are available at www.gla.defra.gov.uk.
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