A health and safety risk assessment is an essential part of the farm management process. It can be a helpful tool for managing the risk of injury and ill-health to yourself, your family, staff, visitors and any neighbours who may be affected by your farming practices.
Agriculture is a high risk industry with one of the highest rates of injury and fatalities of all business sectors in the UK. A risk assessment is a legal requirement for self-employed farmers and for those who employ staff. By avoiding or reducing the risk of injury and ill-health, you will help to minimise the negative impact of accidents, which can include reduced output and financial implications as well as the terrible human cost.
What is a risk assessment?
A risk assessment simply involves examining any working practices on your farm which may cause harm to people and identifying ways in which these risks can be eliminated or reduced. The law requires that you do everything that is ‘reasonably practical’ to eliminate health and safety risks, including evaluating existing control measures and assessing whether these could be improved.
The risk assessment process is simple and does not require any additional training. It can be carried out by you, with the help of your staff, or you may seek assistance from a suitably qualified health and safety advisor. Although there are no fixed regulations for carrying out assessments, there are templates available from the HSE website which can provide useful guidance. It is essential to carry out a risk assessment before adopting new working procedures which have the potential to cause injury or ill-health.
How to identify hazards
The best place to start is by identifying all the working processes and equipment that may cause harm to staff on your farm. It may be useful to do this on a task by task basis by observing how people work on a specific task and asking those involved for their input. Refer to past accidents, injuries or ill-health records, or follow manufacturers’ instructions for equipment and chemical data sheets.
You should pay particular attention to hazardous tasks such as working at height, working alone, working with chemicals, working in noisy or dusty environments or operating machinery. Attention should also be given to the tasks carried out by new workers, migrant workers, and those with low levels of literacy. Include any potential risks to visitors to the farm, such as contractors, maintenance personnel, visiting groups, walkers using rights of way and neighbouring properties. Make sure that your assessment incorporates regulatory requirements, such as chemical use and fire safety.
Once you have identified the risks on your farm, the next step is to plan your control measures. Consider whether you can improve the measures that you are already implementing, or try other options. For example, could you substitute a hazardous substance with a less hazardous one? Could you reduce the amount of time workers spend in hazardous areas? Could you use more effective livestock restraints? What about the possibility of providing better fitting personal protective equipment (PPE), or improving workshop lighting?
It would be impossible to identify and eliminate absolutely every risk on a farm, so your assessment should identify those risks that you might reasonably be expected to anticipate. You should aim to balance the risk against the effort and resources you would need to control it, particularly if the level of risk is small and the cost of removing it is high.
It is a good idea to focus on the biggest risks first – those risks that may cause the most harm and those that are likely to occur frequently.
If you have more than five employees, you are legally required to have a written copy of your risk assessment. This should include information on the risks you have identified, who might be affected by them (e.g. staff, visitors, neighbours) and what reasonable measures you will take to control these risks, either permanently or temporarily.
You should provide appropriate health and safety training for your staff, particularly for migrant workers and those with low literacy/numeracy, and display signage around the farm which is easily understandable by both farm workers and visitors. Your staff should be able to follow the advice and instructions provided when completing tasks and should be encouraged to feed into the risk assessment process by reporting any areas of concern which may pose a risk to staff or visitors.
When to review
Although there is no legally required frequency for carrying out a risk assessment review, this should be done whenever you feel the current one is no longer valid or when there are significant changes to working practices. It would be useful to include an overall annual risk assessment as part of your management plan to ensure that this remains relevant to your needs and that any new regulations or new work activities are incorporated.
You may already be taking steps to reduce some risks on your farm, and regular reviews will help you identify additional ways to further reduce risk or to comply with new regulations. Your workplace will change over time, and for this reason, additional reviews will be needed as you update farm technology or introduce new substances or procedures to the farm. The risk assessment should also be reviewed when you employ new staff or when there is a change in the circumstances of existing staff, such as returning after maternity leave or after an operation.