Don’t let your harvest reap an injury or a fine – the importance of risk assessments

With high numbers and rates of fatal injury, agriculture is one of the riskiest industry sectors for accidents at work. Figures published in the Fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain: 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022 ( show how 25 people were killed as a result of farming and other agriculture-related activities during the year. 

Transportation, namely overturning vehicles or being struck by moving vehicles, caused most deaths. Agriculture has the highest rate of fatal injury of all the main industry sectors, around 21 times higher than the All Industry rate. This reinforces the need for those involved in agribusiness and farming to take particular care to ensure they have complied with their legal duties and reduced the risks to their employees and workers as far as practicable. 

In the event of a significant injury or a death, there will inevitably be an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Individual managers and directors risk losing their liberty, and businesses risk fines running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

The central legal messages that all those with managerial responsibility should know are these:

  • Every employer or dutyholder has a legal duty, under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.
  • Every employer or dutyholder also has a legal duty under the Act to carry out business in such a way as to ensure that persons not in his employment who may be affected by the business are not exposed to risks to their health or safety. This includes visiting workers such as agency workers or contractors as well as visitors.
  • Every employer or dutyholder is legally required, by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to conduct a “suitable and sufficient” assessment of the risks to the health and safety of his employees and others that arise out of all of the activities associated with the business.
  • Such risk assessments must be reviewed if there is reason to suspect they are no longer valid or there has been a significant change to the matters to which the assessment relates.
  • You are required to report significant injuries to the HSE, under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). Go to and complete the appropriate online report form.
  • There are of course also specific regulations covering everything from working at height to fire safety. You should know those which apply to your operations.

As an employer and/or dutyholder you will need to carry out a risk assessment of the various work undertaken, identifying the all of the hazards that could cause harm; who could be harmed and the control measures that are needed to avoid or minimise those risks. Record the main findings in writing and communicate them clearly to staff. Some form of induction training will almost certainly be required and in most cases further health and safety training needed.

You need to provide the necessary information, training or instruction to the worker in an understandable format to them. After providing information, instruction and training, you need to test their understanding either by questioning them or observing them at work. They must also be under the supervision of someone they can communicate with. If someone claims to have the necessary skills or competences, you need to assess this. In the case of forklift truck driving for example, an employer can only authorise a staff member to drive after they have completed a suitable course of training and been independently assessed. 

Breaches of these legal requirements are criminal offences that can result in a hefty fine or even imprisonment. Magistrates can now impose far higher fines for health and safety offences than ever before. Plainly, the most serious breaches, and serious injuries or deaths, will be tried and/or sentenced by a Crown Court judge. 

The key message is identify your risks and address them. Make sure that each aspect of your operation has been risk assessed; that those risk assessments have been acted on; and that they are kept up to date. Make sure that your workers – whether employed or casual – know the risks; that they are trained to work safely; and that you monitor and ensure their compliance with safe systems of work. HSE reports of prosecutions make frequent reference to the following issues:

  • Risk assessments having not been undertaken for obviously high-risk procedures.
  • Workers not having read procedures or manuals.
  • Workers not having been trained or being provided with inadequate equipment.
  • Risk assessments that identified a problem but nothing having been done.
  • Risk assessments that were plainly insufficient because they made no reference to risks that should have been quite plain.

The importance of risk assessments has been underlined by the HSE prosecuting offenders based solely on the risk of injury, as opposed to cases that have resulted in injury.

One of the largest health and safety fines was handed to National Grid Gas plc last year National Grid Gas fined £4m for handing over incomplete records - Energy Live News when it was fined £4 million in addition to £91,805 in costs. The health and safety offences arose from its failure to make records available for hundreds of properties, resulting in routine safety inspections not taking place. This highlights that even if injuries do not result from such omissions, organisations are still at risk of prosecution and significant fines.  The risk assessment and risk amelioration measures taken will therefore be subject to consideration, even when there is no resulting accident or injury.  This sentence reflects how important it is when companies are charged with ensuring records that could keep people safe and well are up to date, that they make that task a priority.   

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Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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