Why you need systematic and informed evaluation of dangers in farm work

Why you need systematic and informed evaluation of dangers in farm work

Farms cannot be compared to any other work environment.

Deaths in agriculture, unlike many other workplace fatalities, often involve family members, including children.

The Health and Safety Authority has said it is concerned there could be a spike in child fatalities on Irish farms this year.

The authority, which investigates all workplace fatalities, said that more children are on farms due to school closures amid Covid-19 restrictions, which means there will be an increased risk.

Health and safety in Ireland is governed by a combination of common law (judge-made law) and statute.

The main legislation providing for the health and safety of people in the workplace is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, as amended by the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

Every employer shall identify the hazards in the place of work under his or her control, assess the risks presented by those hazards and be in possession of a written assessment.

The risk assessment is an invaluable mechanism, which should provide a systematic and informed evaluation of the risks or dangers associated with tasks performed in the course of work.

The case of “Miles v Parsons” provides a useful example of the importance of risk assessment.

In this case, a 14-year-old girl was employed by a newsagent to deliver news papers on her bicycle.

However, during the course of her duties, she was injured in a road traffic accident when a vehicle hit her as she was cycling across a busy road.

The court took the view that the newsagents were 60% negligent, due to the absence of a Risk Assessment Document.

The court also found that the newsagents had failed to adequately assess the paper delivery route by taking into consideration the traffic conditions or the general safety implications of the paper round.

The court further stated that the newsagents should have planned and prepared an order of delivery that effectively minimised the crossing of the road.

The Safety Statement is an important feature of the 2005 Act, as it requires that every employer put in place a statement in writing setting out how the safety, health and welfare of employees is to be secured.

However, it is important to understand that, where a workplace has three or fewer employees, which applies to many farms, there are less stringent requirements concerning the maintenance of an up-to-date Safety Statement.

The Safety Statement and Risk Assessment Document should be brought to the attention of all people who work on the farm.

It should be noted that the common law duty of care owed by an employer to an employee will vary according to the employee’s age, mental and physical capacity, and experience.

The Risk Assessment Document is a minimum legal requirement on all farms.

In this document, a commitment is made to provide a safe place of work, to use safe systems of work, and, for all those using machinery, to provide the protective equipment, information, training and supervision necessary to minimise risk.

Children must be at least 14 years old, have attended a formal training course run by a competent training provider, and be under the supervision of a responsible adult, before they are allowed to drive a tractor, and they must fully understand the purpose of all the controls and the consequences of improper use.

Children under the age of 14 should be prohibited from riding on agricultural machines, including agricultural trailers, unless the risk assessment shows it to be safe to do so, with the following exception: children between the ages of 7 and 16 may ride on a tractor, provided the tractor is fitted with a properly designed and fitted passenger seat (with seat belts) inside a safety cab or frame.

I would appeal to farmers to examine their farms, carry out a risk assessment, eliminate risks, and be mindful of the risks that cannot be eliminated.

Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.- Email: info@walshandpartners.ie- Web: www.walshandpartners.ie

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