Focus on Farm Safety

26 January 2022

Author: Ashleigh Birkett
Practice Area: Health and Safety

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Over the course of 2021, there has been an unfortunate increase in farm fatalities in Northern Ireland[1].It has been reported that seven fatalities occurred during this period, compared with four in 2020 and one in 2019.Three incidents related to equipment/vehicles, another three related to falls from height/being struck by a falling item and one was due to slurry gas.

The Health and Safety Executive (“HSE GB”) has also previously called[2] for improvements to farm safety having been notified of four farm fatalities in Great Britain in just a two week period last summer.

Sadly there are still occasions where health and safety incidents lead to serious injuries and fatalities on farms which can result in enforcement action, including prosecution.

NI Farm Safety Prosecutions Review – 2021

Over the past year there have been two reported health and safety prosecutions relating to farm safety in Northern Ireland.

In July 2021, the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (“HSE NI”) reported[3] that a farmer, Mr William James Doyle, had been fined £25,000 in Newry Crown Court following a guilty plea relating to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978.

The prosecution related to a fatal accident which occurred in May 2018 involving a casual labourer, Mr Toirdealbhach Larkin.

It was reported that a new farm shed was being built on the farm.On 4th May 2018, Mr Larkin had been working alone at the farmyard and was later found trapped between a steel shuttering panel and a fence.

HSE NI noted in its report: “In this case, the absence of proper supervision and inappropriate access to dangerous equipment resulted in the tragic incident”.

This case highlights the importance of ensuring adequate supervision of workers on farms, especially when they are working alone, regardless of whether they work part-time or full-time.

A further prosecution was reported[4] by HSE NI, in September 2021, involving an incident on 27th January 2017 where two workers were injured following a fall from height during farm construction works. HSE NI reported that the two workers were standing on an unsecured working platform which fell from the forks of a telescopic handler.

A self-employed contractor (Mr William (Liam) McColgan) and Riverview Farms Limited entered guilty pleas to health and safety charges and were fined £600 and £6,000 respectively.

This case highlights the need for safe working practices to be agreed (and implemented) between commercial clients and contractors as early as possible in the work planning process.

Guidance and Information for Farmers

HSE GB and HSE NI have published various guidance notes that are specifically aimed at helping farmers to manage the risks associated with agriculture.[5]

Of general application is an HSE GB publication called “Farmwise: Your essential guide to health and safety in agriculture.” [6] The guidance covers the general management of health and safety as well as specific areas of risk.As an example, and of potential relevance to the above cases, there are some helpful tips in relation to managing lone workers (page 10) as well as sections on contractors (pages 8-9), preventing falls (pages 14-17) and building work (pages 18-19).

In our previous article[7] regarding Farm Safety Week 2021, we highlighted the work of the Farm Safety Partnership in Northern Ireland and its focus on different topics to urge farmers to remain alert to the risks of working on a farm.The Farm Safety Partnership regularly shares key messages including the “Farm Safe Essentials”[8] campaign (as highlighted in its action plan[9] 2020-2023).Those working on farms are provided with practical tips and information to improve safety in the following key areas:

  • “Check your brakes”;
  • “Plan safe spaces”;
  • “Give slurry space”;
  • “Stay off roofs”.

If you would like any further information or advice relating to farm health and safety law, please contact Ashleigh Birkett or Ben Johnston from the Health and Safety team at Carson McDowell LLP.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

[1] www.farmersjournal.ie/rise-in-fatal-accidents-on-ni-farms-671579

[2] HSE calls on farmers to make safety a priority after a series of serious incidents - HSE Media Centre

[3] Castlewellan farmer prosecuted following death of labourer | Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (hseni.gov.uk)

[4] www.hseni.gov.uk/news/newtownstewart-based-company-and-self-employed-contractor-fined-health-and-safety-failings

[5] HSE - Publications: Free leaflets - Agriculture and Farm safety | Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (hseni.gov.uk)

[6] Farmwise HSG270 (hse.gov.uk)

[7] www.carson-mcdowell.com/news-and-events/farm-safety-week-2021

[8] www.hseni.gov.uk/essentials

[9] www.hseni.gov.uk/publications/farm-safety-action-plan-2020-23

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