Working at height: Three facts that farmers often overlook

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Claims Team Leader Arthur Denton highlights important considerations that could prevent accidents related to working at height.

On the farm, the change in seasons brings a new set of risks. Stormy weather means farmers are more likely to climb onto roofs, perhaps to repair damage to barns housing the precious winter feed, and often in difficult conditions. At Cornish Mutual, we see an increase in claims relating to such accidents over the autumn and winter.

Working at height is consistently highlighted among the leading causes of agricultural accidents, yet many farmers continue to overlook the risks and fail to take important steps that could protect them and their employees.

1. Almost every farm job could involve working at height

A common misconception is that, in order to be killed or seriously injured as a result from working at height, an individual needs to be several metres up.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), accidents that occur when working at height are the second most common cause of death in agriculture. While most people might associate this stark figure with farmers clambering over fragile barn roofs, working up trees or falling from ladders, it is important to understand that you do not, in fact, have to be very high up to suffer a serious injury.

The HSE states that working at height includes any situation in which “…if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury”. This includes any form of working above ground, floor level, or falling from ground level into an opening or hole.

2. Equipment know-how can prevent many accidents

Working at height often involves using lifting equipment, such as a cherry picker or telehandler. Farmers should be familiar with the HSE’s Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER), which outlines safety precautions relating to lifting equipment in agriculture. These include marking machinery with their safe working loads and undertaking thorough checks of machinery.

At Cornish Mutual we have dealt with claims involving accidents which have happened as a result of equipment being misused. For example, a farm hand being lifted by the bucket of a tractor to reach something.

Ensuring machinery is regularly tested, well maintained and used for its proper purpose, could prevent a working at height accident.

3. A risk assessment could prevent many accidents

Despite at least eight people a year dying as a result of working at height accidents, the HSE says that most of these incidents are preventable.

 To give yourself and your employees the best chance of avoiding these accidents on your farm, we would strongly recommend carrying out regular written risk assessments.  It is a legal requirement for every employer to carry out risk assessments and, should you find yourself facing an insurance claim, or prosecution, following an accident on your farm, a written risk assessment is likely to be a key document in your defence.

In fact, carrying out a risk assessment does not need to be complicated or time consuming.  A good starting point is simply walking around your premises and considering the following:

  1. Identify any potential hazards (this could include machinery or hazardous substances)
  2. Consider who might be harmed and how (remember any contractors and visitors, as well as employees)
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on any precautions you may need to put in place to minimise the risk
  4. Record your significant findings

It is a good idea to involve employees in this process as they may spot hazards that you have missed.

Businesses with a number of different work spaces may want to stagger risk assessments to avoid taking too much time out of one day.

Once you have carried out your first risk assessment, we recommend reviewing it at least once a year, and sooner if there are any significant changes. Any reviews are likely to be quicker and easier than the initial risk assessment.