Farm Safety Week 2015 kicks off with focus on ‘Falls’

7 July 2015

Monday 6 July marks the start of the third annual Farm Safety Week, an initiative launched in 2013 aiming to cut the toll of accidents which continue to give agriculture the poorest record of any occupation in the UK & Ireland. 

This year’s Farm Safety Week follows last year’s ‘Yellow Wellies’ campaign which posed the question to farmers: “Who Would Fill Your Boots?”  It is now being supported by more organisations than ever, including the Farm Safety Foundation, the 5 national Farm Safety Partnerships, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) and the Health & Safety Authority, Ireland (HSA). 

IOSH are active supporters of the 3 national Regulators and the Farm Safety Partnerships, through members in the Rural Industries Group and the Rural Industries Section in Northern Ireland. IOSH has also convened and sponsored numerous events on farm safety.

RIG has promoted good practice and highlighted many incidents relating to the Week’s lead topic, ie unsafe working at height which has led to catastrophic falls (and prosecutions) over the years.  These have also highlighted that falls can occur anywhere – not just from roofs, buildings and ladders, but also temporary places of work such as stacks, in stores and from loads or field machinery. Slips and trips are one of the most common causes of injuries and work days lost, but the consequences are obviously likely to be much more severe if a slip or trip occurs at height, eg while repairing a roof without adequate edge protection.

Launching the campaign, the Head of HSE’s Agriculture, Waste and Recycling Sector Rick Brunt pointed out: “While our farmers are among the best in the world, farming continues to have one of the poorest records of any occupation in the UK and Ireland and while all farm accidents are shocking and dreadfully sad, the saddest thing is that they can often be prevented.  

“A fall can lead to long term injuries and make it difficult to keep on farming. Most ‘Falls from Height’ accidents occur either because the work is not properly planned, the risks are not recognised, proper precautions are not taken, or the equipment used is either defective, not appropriate, or used incorrectly. Often people about to undertake a job believe it will ‘only take a few minutes’, and take a risk in the hope that simply ‘being very careful’ will be enough.”

Gutter cleaning case study

Even the most safety conscious farmers can experience the effects of a serious injury. In a recent case, a young Yorkshire farmer was carrying out routine maintenance on a length of guttering on the family farm when he fell eighteen feet through a roof light onto the concrete floor below him.  Twenty year old Peter Rooke was in great pain as he had broken the femur in his left leg. He was airlifted to hospital where surgeons pinned the leg with a steel rod but he was unable to return to work for eight weeks.

His father Mark was working with him on the roof. “It is a job I have done for the past 30 years and whenever I was working on the roof there was a farm worker below so I was not alone. The gutter cleaning is an annual job which we have to do to ensure that there is no water leakage when grain is stored in the building below.

“It was a fine day but heavy rain was threatened so there was some pressure to get the job done before the weather change.  I told Peter about the dangers before we went up there together and to be very careful. 

“We had only been working up there for about ten minutes when the incident occurred. Peter had stepped backwards from the safety boards onto the (fragile) roof light which gave way and crashed straight through to the floor below. He cannot explain how or why he stepped backwards and it must have been a lapse in concentration.”

Since the incident Mark has had a safety harness and a back rail fitted to the roof so that anyone working at height there is securely held. Peter Rooke’s story can be seen in full on the HSE ‘Make The Promise’ webpage. 

HSE’s Rick Brunt added: “Working at height is a frequent danger on farms. A fall is one of the most common causes of death and serious injury and farmers and farm workers of all ages run the risk of injury or death from falls from height.  It is vital that the farming community take the time to think about what they are doing and what might go wrong. Don’t learn safety by accident!” 

[NB.  Suggestion for Farm Safety Week:  Isn’t it time you ‘revisited’ the short Make The Promise’ films? Each tells a very poignant story about a wide range of causes of incidents and their tragic consequences of deaths or injuries on the individuals their families and businesses.  There are several related to ‘falls’ and over 20 others on other topics. Why not use these in your induction training or health and safety updating sessions?  They have not lost their impact or ‘currency’ since they were posted a few years ago.] 

Other recent ‘Falls’ incidents and prosecutions to consider 

There have been quite a few cases related to unsafe work at height on farms and related premises in recent weeks and months. For example:

Farm company fined after worker fell through skylight

A farm company was fined £1,500 plus costs of £1,690 on 19 June 2015 after a worker fell five-and-a-half metres through an ‘unseen’ plastic skylight in June 2014. The worker was asked by his supervisor to clean the gutter on the abattoir owned by Tottingworth Farms at Broad Oak, East Sussex. He was left unsupervised and given a ladder that was too short so he gained access onto the roof via a set of stairs. 

He fell more than 5m but luckily a pile of animal skins that he had coincidentally piled up earlier in the area directly below, broke his fall.  Even more luckily, he ‘only’ broke his wrist – although as with many apparently simple injuries, it doesn’t end there. He has since had four operations on his wrist, which he still cannot use for more than a few hours due to the pain. 

More information and HSE’s pertinent comments on this case are provided in HSE’s Press Release

Farm director fined after contact with overhead power line during work on molasses tank

The director of a Shropshire dairy farm was prosecuted on 12 February 2015 for failing to protect both himself and a 22-year-old self-employed relief worker.  Both were knocked unconscious after being lifted in a telescopic loader bucket to work on two molasses tanks on 30 September 2013. While fitting a pipe to one of the tanks at Flashbrook Manor, Newport, the two men received a shock of 11,000 volts. Both men slumped unconscious in the bucket, which was immediately lowered to the ground by another employee driving the telehandler. They suffered electrical burns and were taken to hospital, but this could easily have been a double - even a triple - fatality.  
Phillip Mansell was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay £1,495 in costs after pleading guilty to three breaches of section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company Shutt and Mansell Ltd, of the same address, was also fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £800 in costs after admitting breaching Regulation 9(3) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998.
See the interesting further comments about this case in HSE’s Press Release.  

Farmer fined after workers fall through cowshed roof 

The partner of an East Sussex farm was fined on 6 February 2015 after his employee was seriously injured in a 3 metre fall through a fragile cowshed roof. The worker (aged 52) broke five vertebrae and two ribs, and cracked his left leg socket in the incident at Gate Court Farm in Northiam, near Rye, on 15 September 2014. He now has limited mobility and has been unable to work since.
He was working on top of a cowshed repairing a leaking internal gutter, with a fellow farm worker watching on. He accessed the top of the roof by ladder, before walking along the concrete gutter that collected water from surrounding roof sheets. Whilst on top of the building he noticed a crack on one of the sheets that also required attention. As he rested his foot on an adjacent sheet to take a proper look, it snapped, causing him to lose his balance. He fell forwards through the cracked sheet and crashed onto the concrete floor below. 
HSE found that neither employee had any formal training on how to work safely at height and that during previous roof work at the farm, a “cage” fashioned from an old chemical container was incorrectly fitted to a telehandler to provide an elevated work platform. 
HSE served 4 Improvement Notices to ensure any further work at height was properly planned and managed using the correct equipment and methods, and Rupert Cyster (51), was fined a total of £12,000 and ordered to pay a further £881 in costs after pleading guilty to three separate breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
As the investigating Inspector said at the time:  “Falls through fragile roofs account for almost a quarter of all work at height deaths, so it is absolutely vital that any such work is fully considered and that the correct equipment and working methods are used at all times. On this occasion the repairs should have been completed from underneath, avoiding the need to access the roof in the first place.”

Look out for others coming on the farm, including contractors?

A number of incidents and prosecutions over the past year have involved contractors working on farm premises.  For example:

Solar panel installer in court after workers’ fall through farm roof 

With the increasing trend to install solar panels on the roofs of farm buildings as well as in fields, it was particularly disconcerting to read that the owner of a solar panel business was fined £4,500 and ordered to pay costs of £1,500 on 15 September 2014 after two brothers fell 15ft through a fragile roof that had not been identified as a risk. 

Brynley Perrett, 37, suffered a compression fracture of his back and sternum in the incident on a farm near Trellech in Monmouthshire, in June 2013. His brother Anthony, was fortunate to escape injury.  They were installing solar panels on a building at the farm on behalf of Andrew Green, who traded as Green Park Power. 

Mr Green was prosecuted by HSE after they found that he had “failed to make an adequate assessment of the risks of working on a fragile roof and did not take sufficient action to reduce those risks. There was no equipment or measures in place, such as nets or scaffold edge protection, to prevent or mitigate a fall.”

Agricultural engineering company employees near-death fall 

A young father of two suffered life-changing injuries after he plunged 7 metres through an unsafe fragile roof at a farm in Harrogate. [See photograph of the site] Coincidentally, sentence was passed on 4 June 2014, a year to the day after 22-year-old Daniel Telford fell and broke his neck, suffered shattered vertebrae, broken shoulder blades, several cracked ribs, a collapsed lung, broken arm, fractured pelvis, broken right hip, tendon damage to a foot and both hands, and serious nerve damage. He was in hospital for 4 weeks while his wife was pregnant and had to use a wheelchair for 3 months after being discharged.  At the time of the Court case he was still unable to return to work.

His employer, Spruce and Hawe Ltd and its director Michael Spruce, from Wetherby failed to provide any precautions to protect workers from falls while working on the building. The Company was fined £12,000 and its Director £3,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 37 of HSWAct. Costs of £513 were also imposed.

The firm had been contracted by the farm’s owner to extend a building it had built several years earlier. Mr Telford was working with Mr Spruce on the roof of the property replacing rooflights, when the fragile roof-sheet he was standing on gave way. He fell through and crashed down on the concrete floor below.

HSE served an Immediate Prohibition Notice on the company stopping any further work at height until precautions were taken to protect from falls or to mitigate the dangers.

HSE advised that protective measures could have included placing netting underneath, working from safe working platforms, or newer ways of working such as from a platform underneath.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Julian Franklin said: “This young man could have been killed by a simple failure to follow well-known systems of work when on a fragile roof. As it is, he sustained severe and multiple injuries that have changed his life. A year on, he is struggling to come to terms with the physical and psychological after-effects of this horrendous accident.”

Dreadful impact – in more ways than one

The full horror of such incidents was highlighted by Daniel, when he described how the fall had changed his life for ever. “After I fell, I was lying on the floor in horrendous pain, but because of fluid building up in my throat, I was shouting for someone to put me in the recovery position. If they hadn’t, I know I could have choked to death.  

“Later in hospital, I remember my family coming to see me when I was in resuscitation and can still remember how devastated they all were.  I had a number of operations and lots of different surgery. I’d broken my neck, both shoulder blades, several ribs and had a collapsed lung. When I could get off my back in the hospital bed, it was absolutely agonising.  I also developed hyposensitive skin from the broken neck which meant that the slightest touch, even water or wind on my skin, was painful. It still is, a year later.”

“When I came home in a wheelchair, my self-esteem was totally gone as I couldn’t do anything for myself. I felt like a complete wreck. People had to feed me, give me a drink, pass me something to look at as I just couldn’t move my arms or legs.

“Twelve months later, I am slowly getting better and hope to be able to return to work eventually. I am walking again, although my hip often gives way.  I feel it has been a constant battle – so many routine and normal day to day tasks are still a challenge.”   

Julian Franklin, who carried out the HSE investigation, added:
“It is vital for those people controlling work activities to ensure they follow the correct precautions when anyone is working at height.  Relying on standing on the bolts on a fragile roof is criminal, and where we find that sort of behaviour, we will take whatever enforcement or prosecution action we can.  Workers have the right to return from a day’s work safely and without harm

And so say all of us!  Put simply: Roof work and repairs need to be better planned and managed…. For further advice on preventing falls on farms and working safely at height see HSE’s webpage.

FOOTNOTE:  More about Farm Safety Week and the Partnerships

Please promote Farm Safety Week and raise awareness, eg on Twitter using ‘I support #FarmSafetyWeek ‘. 

Farm Safety Week started in 2013 and struck a chord with the farming community with the initiative being recognised by 54% of the farming community according to recent Voice of the Farmer research*. 

The ‘Week’ has grown to include England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; five nations with a single purpose; to reduce death and serious injuries in agriculture. All are focusing on these key themes as part of their own initiatives.  A separate article will be posted soon providing an update on each of the Partnerships. 

*Voice of the Farmer interviewed a sample of 1279 farmers across the UK in April 2015, matched to UK profile of all farms by country and farm size.