In Ireland, it is common for personal injury actions to arise from accidents which happen at work, whether it be factories, building sites, offices or farms.
Farms are potentially dangerous places, with slurry pits, electric fences, farm machinery and livestock all posing dangers to people on the farm.
It is important for farmers to be aware of their legal responsibilities as owners or occupiers of the land and as potential employers.
The law on health and safety in Ireland is governed by 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 Health, Safety and Welfare of Work Act 2005 (hereafter “the 2005 Act”).
Under the Act, there are a number of obligations or legal duties for a person controlling a workplace.
This would certainly apply to farmers who have employees, or bigger farms operating as companies.
Some of the obligations under the Act, and under health and safety law, include a duty to carry out a risk assessment, have a safety statement in place, and to provide training in respect of health and safety in the workplace.
Under the legislation, an employer must take reasonable care for the employee’s safety in all circumstances, and the employer owes a duty of care to an employee.
The law in respect of employers liability is concerned with the duty of care which exists between an employer and employee.
An employer owes a duty to their employees to ensure a reasonably safe place of work.
It should be noted the onus is on the worker to establish that the employer was negligent, and they must prove that the negligence actually caused the injury of which they complain.
This is known as causation.
An employee may have contributed to their own injury, and may be contributorily negligent.
The courts will normally attribute this on a percentage basis based on the level of negligence for both parties.
An example would be if the employee was found 25% contributorily negligent, their damages would be reduced.
Farmers should also be aware of the doctrine of vicarious liability.
A farmer can be held liable, where his employee commits a wrong related to the work he is carrying out, or in the course of his work.
Accordingly, it is very important for farmers who employ others to take care not to authorise acts which pose dangers or could be potentially negligent.
Farmers should also be aware they owe duties to visitors, and potentially to trespassers, on their lands.
The Occupier’s Liability Act 1995 outlines the duty of care owed to visitors, recreational users, and trespassers.
A landowner must take reasonable care that visitors do not suffer harm due to the state of the premises or lands, although a visitor has to take reasonable care for their own safety.
In terms of recreational users and trespassers, a landowner owes a duty not to deliberately injure, and not to act with reckless disregard for their safety.
The most important issue arising from this is that farmers, being landowners, could be held liable for harm caused to a recreational user or trespasser where the danger is not obvious.
For example, a trespasser who injures themselves on a hazard could potentially sue a landowner for failing to warn potential entrants to the land of the danger, even though the land is privately owned.
Accordingly, it is crucial for farmers to place warning signs of any dangers on their lands, at the entrance to their lands, in order to avoid liability for any potential claims from entrants to their land.
If you are a farmer and an employer, it is important to have employer and public liability insurance in place to deal with any potential claims.
If there is a claim, you should immediately notify your insurer.
It is very important that you ensure that there are health and safety measures in place, including the appropriate training, and assessments to make sure that all employees and visitors are safe and to prevent against potential claims.
If a farmer is involved in a claim, it is advisable to obtain legal advice.