Samantha Bills LLB, BCOM

with Michael Dewhirst LLB

December 2015

Health and Safety on farms – but what about old fashioned common sense?

Is common sense just not that common anymore?

When it comes to health and safety and farming, many are concerned that common sense has been lost. Farmers are frustrated at the increasing pressure on them to follow confusing rules and regulations.

In the past, health and safety law has primarily focussed on the person in charge of a place of work. That person takes most or all the flack when a worker does something that obviously should not have occurred.

A new Act will come into force in April 2016, and under it workers will also have duties. This underlines the idea that health and safety at work is the responsibility of everyone in the workplace.

However, the primary duty will still lie with the person in charge. They must ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers while they are in a place of work.

You may be aware that a key area of public debate has been that agriculture will not be classified as “high risk”, but surprisingly mini golf and worm farming may be. The effect of this is that agriculture will be excluded from the requirement to have mandatory health and safety representatives (if there are less than 20 workers).

However, the person in charge will still have the duty to engage workers in health and safety. This means that workers must participate in improving health and safety practices on the farm.

To achieve this, health and safety will need to be a regular item for team meetings, and worker feedback processes implemented. Farmers will need to listen to their workers, and take all hazards seriously.

But what about workers? How far does their responsibility go?

The new Act states that a worker must take reasonable care of their own health and safety while at work. The worker can and should refuse to do any work that they believe may cause them serious harm.

The worker must also comply with all reasonable instructions given to them by the person in charge.

The person in charge is required to provide an environment where workers are adequately trained, and are familiar and comfortable with health and safety requirements.

These reforms will encourage worker ‘buy in’ and a common sense and active approach to identifying and managing hazards and risks. However, the person in charge will continue to carry the principal obligation to make sure that systems and training are adequate, and workers have the opportunity to provide feedback.

In most cases, the failure of a worker to adopt good health and safety practices on the farm is likely to be seen as the failure of the farmer.

The new Act comes into force on 4 April 2016. Now is a good time to consider your obligations and your practices.