East Anglian farmers face crippling fines or jail if they don’t take health and safety more seriously, warns agricultural risk expert
PUBLISHED: 10:41 10 December 2017
An agricultural risk expert fears farmers in East Anglia are risking severe financial repercussions, and even jail, because they are unaware of tougher penalties for health and safety breaches.
Richard Wade, of Fakenham-based Lycetts Risk Management Services, 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 £2 million 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 £50 million – can face fines of up to £10 million. 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 specific circumstances, with fines in the lower courts limited to £20,000.
Richard said: “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. In the past year, there have been three deaths in the East of England.
Two Norfolk-based companies were fined £214,400 in total after a worker suffered a serious electric shock that left him with life-changing injuries.
The victim received extensive burns after a drilling rig he was working on for crop irrigation struck an overhead power cable.
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident found that neither company had taken effective precautions to prevent work equipment from coming into contact with the lines.
For more advice on keeping farms safe, visit hse.gov.uk/agriculture.