17 May 1996

Moves to set up pilot safety scheme sets sparks flying

FARMERS have clashed with farmworkers over moves by the Transport and General Workers Union to set up a pilot farm safety scheme in a bid to cut down on the number of fatalities and serious injuries in agriculture.

Launched earlier this year, the TGWU scheme involves nine trained farmworkers covering east and south-west England, who are trying to raise awareness of health and safety issues among farmworkers.

The farmworkers are campaigning on issues such as under-reporting of accidents, ill health and the use of hazardous substances, and the scheme has attracted interest from farmworkers and unions in the EU.

It was launched following last years announcement by the Health and Safety Executive of a record number of 56 fatalities from agricultural accidents, and that farming had overtaken the construction sector as the most dangerous industry.

The scheme has backing from the HSE and Trades Union Congress, but has been opposed by the NFU, who claim it could worsen relationships between farmers and workers.

In a letter to the HSE, the NFU claimed the scheme would "bring a fourth dimension to the already complex relationship between employer, employee and the HSE."

Mike Webber, Somerset TGWU Rural and Allied Agricultural Workers member, said five open meetings had been held in the county but only farmworkers had attended.

Barry Leathwood, TGWU national agriculture secretary, said he was disappointed by the NFUs response. "It makes you wonder how serious the NFU really is about safety. We are trying to make farms safer places to work through our safety reps scheme.

"We just hope local NFU members will make their own minds up about the value of our initiative, and lend it their support."

Mike Sebastian, HSE spokesman, said the TGWU scheme added value to the work carried out by the HSE, though he stressed strict guidelines had been laid down during training.

"We were at great pains to stress that roving safety reps had no legal right of entry on farm and could only go on-farm with HSE inspectors with the farmers permission."