Difficulty in keeping the workplace totally safe

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There is an ongoing lively debate taking place in the farming press following the situation when a member of the public took a photograph of a Hampshire farmer lifting two farm workers in a grain bucket on an extended tele-handler up to a barn roof. The farmer was reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by the observer, as a result of which he has been heavily fined for this infringement of health and safety.

This incident has caused quite a stir amongst the farming fraternity some saying the member of the public should have minded his own business and others that the farmer deserved to get into trouble for breaching health and safety laws.

Farms are notoriously dangerous places of work; there are potential hazards around every corner. There is a mass of machinery and equipment of every size and shape for the very wide variety of jobs we do and on livestock farms lively beasts of various sizes to be wary of.

We all try our best to ensure that anyone working on our farms or visiting are not put at risk. However, during the course of every working day there are occasions when situations arise which could possibly be viewed as unsafe by those unfamiliar with our working environment.

We regularly attend training days organised by the Health and Safety Executive at Plumpton College which are excellent to raise awareness of potentially dangerous situations, new regulations and the latest safety devises.

There is advice on lifting heavy weights, driving quad bikes safely, the proper use of ladders and working on potentially dangerous roofs safely to mention some.

There is always the graphic demonstration of a life size dummy falling to the ground from a grain bucket on the end of an extended tele-handler.

Without fail the lifelike dummy always lands on his head which I am quite certain has been over filled with ball bearings and has a dramatic effect. However it does draw our attention to the real risk of taking chances and man’s vulnerability.

I recently invited the NFU Mutual Risk Management Service to conduct a health and safety audit of the farms.

The resulting 119 page report was very sobering and rather depressing. If we complied with all the recommendations regarding training for just about every piece of machinery and equipment on the farms, put up all the signs and bought all the recommended books and pamphlets suggested in the report, we would never get any work done.

We would be regularly away on training courses, reading instructions or collecting spare parts and safety equipment to keep us safe when doing the jobs we don’t have time to do as we are too busy ensuring we are safe!

Lives and limbs are, of course, very precious and every day we take care to ensure our valued staff, family and friends do not take unnecessary risks, endanger themselves and hopefully kept safe. We do none the less all depend upon a certain amount of common sense and the experience of many years working in familiar territory and with machinery and equipment we are used to.

There are jobs we do in a certain way that others unfamiliar with the farm and situation may consider unsafe but to those operating the machinery or the circumstance are fully under control.

There are certain times when what looks bad is in fact the safest option at the time.

The thought of bringing in new, young or inexperienced staff fills me with dread and is the stuff of nightmares.

Therefore due to the rigours of today’s health and safety laws, the chance of taking on someone new or an apprentice is fairly unlikely to happen regrettably.