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February 21, 2012

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Agriculture dangers prompt renewed call for roving safety reps

With statistics underlining that agricultural workers are more likely to be killed at work than any other occupational group, the Unite union is calling on the Government to introduce a programme of roving safety reps.

It is also urging the Nationals Farmers’ Union (NFU) to push the health and safety agenda at its annual conference, which takes place this week in Birmingham.

According to the HSE, 34 people died in farm accidents in 2010/11 – a rate of eight fatalities per 100,000 workers. The risk of death is four times higher for a farm worker than someone working on a building site, adds Unite.

Despite the fact that the Government has acknowledged the high risks involved in farming, its policy document, ‘Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone’, has deemed that proactive inspections in agriculture are “unlikely to be effective”, and will therefore be largely abandoned.

HSE figures also show that agricultural workers have the highest risk of major injuries, such as amputations, fractures and burns. The industry’s rate of 242.1 major injuries per 100,000 employees is more than twice the average (101.5 per 100,000 employees) for all industries.

Against this backdrop, Unite is renewing its call on the Government to introduce roving safety reps to check working practices. Cath Speight, the union’s national officer, said: “Unite has repeatedly called for the introduction of roving safety reps to visit farms. These shocking statistics are the biggest argument for that issue to be raised again.

“Other high-risk industries, particularly construction, have seen death and accident rates fall over the years. But this has not happened in agriculture and, for many years now, Britain’s farms have been the most dangerous workplaces in the land.”

Unite points out that the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Code of Practice, ‘Safety and Health in Agriculture’, reinforces the value of developing a system of trained and accredited roving safety reps to help employers and workers improve health and safety standards on farms.

Added Speight: “If roving reps could visit and see that farmers are complying with health and safety legislation, we believe this high level of accidents and deaths would be reduced. Unionised workplaces are the safest workplaces.”

In a speech at the NFU Conference today (21 February), Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman described the risk-based approach to inspections as an example of the Government reducing the administrative burden on farmers.

She insisted, however, that it would still “come down hard” on those who fail to comply with rules and regulations, saying: “This initiative is not just about tweaking a few rules. This marks a genuine shift in the way we work with you.”

Clive James, training development manager at St John Ambulance, insisted that farmers should not interpret changes designed to ease their administrative burden as a reason to take their eye off the ball on safety.
He said: “With agriculture experiencing the highest rate of fatal injuries of all industries in the UK, as well as one of the highest rates of major injuries, we are in support of more targeted inspections to ensure that high-risk workplaces are meeting health and safety regulation.

“Such inspections can ensure a safer working environment for agriculture employees by encouraging them to remain vigilant about safety. We’ve all seen the impact that poor health and safety practices can have – be it financial, reputational or, even worse, at the cost of someone’s life – and, by encouraging more proactive inspections, we can work to reduce these occurrences.”

SHP has attempted to contact the NFU but has yet to hear back.

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12 years ago

HSC commissioned research has already shown that Roving Safety Representatives would be useful to improve health and safety standards in agriculture. In the Lofstedt Report the learned Professor stated that, while such a proposal would benefit employers and employees, it might have some administration and implementation costs. He didn’t identify any estimates of such costs nor what the benefits would be. He simply rejected the idea. Agricultural workers – apparently just not worth the bother.