Farmers urged to keep a close eye on working hours of staff this harvest

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Agriculture remains one of the most dangerous professions in the UK – yet many of the fatalities and serious injuries reported each year can be easily avoided.

The busy harvest period is a time when the risk of an accident occurring could increase – particularly with more large vehicles out on the roads and a greater reliance on potentially inexperienced seasonal staff.

Ahead of Farm Health and Safety Week (July 4-8) farm health and safety specialists Safety Revolution are urging employers to make sure that all those under their care are aware of their responsibilities.

The entire workforce should be well briefed in health and safety procedures and know exactly what to do should the worst happen.

From pre harvest machinery checks and safety measures around lone working through to correctly stacking bales and working at height – no stone should be left unturned.

One area that needs particular close attention is ensuring that staff take adequate breaks and are not over worked – safeguarding against tiredness and fatigue.

Oliver Dale, managing director of Safety Revolution, said there was a lack of clear guidance on when breaks should be taken and therefore it was the responsibility of the employer to make informed decisions to protect the wellbeing of staff.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the buzz of harvest, but make sure working hours are monitored closely,” he said.

“There should be a clear policy stating how many hours and days that staff can work before they are required to take a break or have time off.

“Tiredness and fatigue can lead to mistakes and – at a time of year when there are likely to be more vehicle movements and extra people on the payroll to cope with higher workloads – it could have fatal consequences. Keeping your workforce fresh and alert is an absolute necessity.

“Unfortunately there’s not a great deal of clarity on when breaks should be taken. It comes down to the discretion of the individual employer.

“However guidelines need to be in place. Keep an eye out for any tell-tale signs of fatigue – are standards of work slipping? Are people making more mistakes? Is there sufficient attention to detail? These are all warning signs on which to make a judgement.”

Mr Dale added that many “best practice” employers will provide a meal for staff to ensure they take a lunch break, while it was also vital to keep workers hydrated with a regular supply of water.

Several high profile court cases have brought health and safety issues on farms into sharp focus in recent months, with hefty fines and criminal proceedings brought against those found to be failing in their responsibilities.

“Generally, farmers are addressing health and safety in a positive, proactive way,” Mr Dale said. “The majority treat the issue as they would other disciplines – such as finances, agronomy and nutrition. They recognise it’s an important area that they need to get right.

“But the facts are incontrovertible – statistically farming is still one of the most dangerous industries to work in.

“It’s crucial that all workers are fully briefed and essential that staff – whether permanent or temporary – go through a rigorous, recorded induction process which will leave them in no doubt of all necessary procedures.”

Mr Dale said Farm Safety Week was the ideal time to ensure all health and safety documentation was up to date.

“Keep everything together in a file with your health and safety policy document – include supporting evidence that procedures have been followed such as letters, certification and receipts for safety equipment,” he said.

“The law requires you to assess and prioritise the risks and then prove that they’re being controlled effectively. It’s therefore essential to have written evidence that all staff have read and signed off on safety procedures and know who is responsible for administering them.”