Farming safely - can you afford not to?

26 July 2018

Author: Ben Johnston
Practice Area: Health and Safety

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Last week marked the sixth annual UK and Ireland Farm Safety Week. Farming plays a crucial role in the Northern Ireland economy, employing nearly 47,000 people across 24,500 farms. Unfortunately, year after year, farming is found to be the most dangerous industry to work in.

A host of factors, ranging from the immediate challenges posed by Northern Ireland’s uniquely unpredictable weather (be that too much or, recently much too little rain) to the general uncertainty created by Brexit, have put considerable pressure on farmers to ensure they are carefully considering their profitability. Farmers have legal responsibilities in relation to ensuring health and safety practices on their farm but aside from this, failing to invest appropriately in health and safety risks significant financial and personal costs.

Farmers in Northern Ireland can be prosecuted for poor health and safety practice. For example, in October 2017, a County Tyrone farmer was fined £1,000 plus court costs of £1,390.56 for failing to maintain safe conditions on his farm. In this instance, the farmer had asked a 14 year old worker to remain in a tractor that was mixing slurry inside a farm building.

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (‘HSENI’) appears focused on promoting the benefits of preventing accidents on farms rather than aggressively pursuing enforcement. In an open letter to farmers, Keith Morrison, chief executive HSENI, makes an impassioned plea for farmers across Northern Ireland to get involved in changing attitudes toward health and safety.

Getting health and safety right undoubtedly requires some level of financial investment. The advice from organisations promoting farm safety, such as the Farm Safety Partnership, however is not simply to throw money at the problem but rather for farmers to keep health and safety at the forefront when making choices on how to approach day-to-day tasks on the farm. A wealth of advice is available online from HSENI and HSE, More often than not, the advice involves taking simple, inexpensive steps to help ensure safety on the farm.

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