South East farmers face crippling fines or jail if they don’t take health and safety more seriously, warns agricultural expert
6 December 2017 – An agricultural expert fears farmers in the South East are risking severe financial repercussions, and even jail, because they are unaware of tougher penalties for health and safety breaches.
Alan Sinclair, of farm insurance specialist Lycetts, is worried there is a lack of knowledge among the farming community around The Health and Safety Sentencing Guidelines – particularly that fines are now based on turnover.
Since February 2016, farming companies with a turnover of up to £2m who are found to have breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 can expect to pay fines of up to £450,000.
Larger businesses – with turnovers in excess of £50m – can face fines of up to £10m. Individuals found guilty of breaching the law can be handed unlimited fines or face a two-year prison sentence.
Judges could previously only impose custodial sentences in very specific circumstances, with fines in the lower courts limited to £20,000.
Alan said: “Health and safety breaches can have very serious, and even fatal, consequences and it is only right that they are dealt with appropriately. Anything to improve health and safety in one of the most dangerous industries is certainly welcomed and supported.
“But our feedback from farmers suggests many may not fully comprehend how business-critical a breach can be. It is no longer a slap on a wrist and a fine amounting to hundreds of pounds. Farmers who are lax with their health and safety procedures can expect to feel the full force of the law.
“Now a number factors are taken into account when deciding punishment, including the level of culpability, the risk of causing harm and the level of potential harm, and the turnover of the offending business.
“These guidelines are meant to act as a deterrent – and farmers should be aware that lapses in judgement, or a failure to take a proactive approach to safety, could cripple their operations.”
Agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury – 7.61 per 100,000 people – which is 18 times higher than the all industry rate.
In 2016/17, 30 people were killed in agriculture. The victims’ ages ranged from 3 to 80.
Although not all fatalities on farms are a result of health and safety breaches, these figures highlight how risky an industry it is.
A company in Essex was fined £120,000 earlier this year after an employee was seriously injured by a chainsaw while felling trees.
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the man had not been trained to operate the chainsaw, nor was he wearing any personal protective equipment. There was no supervision and no proper planning had been put in place.
In Hampshire, a company was fined £60,000 after an employee lost the tips of two fingers whilst using a bagging machine, after a hole had been cut into the guards.
Alan said: “These cases – and the significantly higher fines – serve to illustrate how seriously courts are taking health and safety breaches on farms and highlight what farmers can expect if they cut corners or take shortcuts.
“People’s lives are being put at risk on a daily basis on farms and an accident can have a devastating effect on the victim and their family. Farmers need to prioritise compliance with the health and safety regulations and make sure they are doing all they can do to protect their workers – or face the consequences.”
For more advice on keeping farms safe, visit hse.gov.uk/agriculture.
- The Lycetts Group was founded in 1961 and has grown to become one of the UK’s leading independently-operated insurance brokers.
- Lycetts specialises in farm and estate insurance and also provides bespoke financial services, commercial and bloodstock insurance advice. It has 15 offices in the UK, with its headquarters based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
- Lycetts Risk Management Services provide a comprehensive range of health and safety services to the agricultural sector, including health and safety policies, risk assessments, fire risk assessments, asbestos management services and general health and safety training.
- All available profits from Lycetts are passed onto the company’s ultimate owner, the charity Allchurches Trust, which in turn invests them back into the community. This structure offers security and business stability for Lycetts while fostering an ethical and long-term approach and a high-level of client trust.