Farmers who take on staff to help them over the harvest period should make sure all workers are given a clear health and safety briefing before they start work.
It is vital to give an induction to harvest staff, who may be pushing themselves hard in terms of effort and hours working.
This will help to protect workers and reduce the risk of accidents occurring in the first place.
In the event of an incident, it will also offer some protection to the farmer as the Health and Safety Executive will ask questions about the procedures in place to ensure worker safety.
The induction should apply to all workers even if they have worked on the farm before, as things may well have changed.
Employers should work though the following checklist with farm staff:
Contact details and communication
- Get the correct contact details of all workers – as they start work, double check all the contact details you hold for them.
- Get next of kin details in case of an accident – in the event of an incident it is vital that the right people can be contacted quickly.
- Circulate phone numbers of all workers on the farm so that everyone can be contacted when necessary.
- Consider the what3words app to help emergency services accurately pinpoint a location.
- Make sure everyone has farm maps.
- It’s good practice to leave a map and copy of contact details of each in every vehicle.
- Consider how you will communicate effectively at a busy time – WhatsApp groups work well for many teams.
Staff health and welfare
A medical questionnaire (after the date of hiring) can help the employer identify where they may need to make adjustments to allow for a condition or injury, according to health and safety consultant Mia Bambury of Safety Revolution.
- The employee is obliged to provide the information and can feel safe in the knowledge that their welfare and safety can be properly managed and in the event of illness or incident they get the correct treatment.
- Language difficulties for non-native English speakers should be accounted for and can be navigated by using a translator – depending on the type of business there is sometimes someone within the staff.
- Alternatively, staff should be walked through procedures to make sure they are clear about them.
- Give everyone a guided tour of the farm, plus a copy of a farm plan with locations of any overhead cables and ditches/dykes marked on to it.
- Show all workers where to find the isolation points for electrics, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, wash facilities and toilets.
- Identify any jobs that they are not allowed to do and explain the reasons why.
- Determine if anyone has any allergies or illness that others need to be aware of and what symptoms to look for. Examples might include diabetes, or workers who react to bee and wasp stings as people will need to know where to find epi-pens (adrenaline) if necessary.
- Stress the need to report accidents and near misses.
- Explain any hygiene considerations including the leptospirosis risks of working in grain and/or feed stores.
- Ensure all workers are capable of doing the job they are being employed to do. This means making sure they can reverse a trailer safely and operate the machines they are going to be operating.
- Obtain copies of driving licences and their certificates of competencies for applying pesticides (PA), using telescopic forklifts and chainsaws. Check passport and work permits if necessary.
- Explain what to do in the event of an accident such as who should be the person that is called.
- Talk through the management structure of the business and who they should report to in the event of a problem if their usual manager is not available.
- Explain what is expected of them during the course of their employment.
- Run through the farm’s lone working policy and hours of work.
- Ensure staff are checked on during the course of the day either via telephone, radio and/or face-to-face checks. Ensure everyone gets home safely each night and if they are working late ensure you know where they will be working and what time you expect them to finish. Get staff to text or call you to let you know they have finished each night if you won’t be seeing them.
- Explain the policy and requirement to report defects or breakages and to who they should report them to.
- Explain your smoking policy, making it clear smoking is banned in vehicles and straw fields.
- Be aware of working hours and the requirement for breaks.
- Distribute any personal protection equipment – such as dust masks – and show them where replacements are stored.
- Everyone should know what PPE is required for what jobs.
- Correct protocol for approaching vehicles, especially combines, where driver’s vision is impaired.
- Run through general safety advice such the safe stop procedure. This requires workers to put the handbrake on, leave all controls and equipment safe, stop the engine and remove the key before leaving the driving seat, or if someone is approaching or working on the machine.
- Remind staff of the importance, despite the stress of harvest, of the need for a careful driving style, keeping to speed limits – especially in villages, to be aware of school drop-off and pick-up times and other similar hazards, and the need to pull over.
- Daily vehicle checks are an essential element of risk reduction.
- For workers who will also be expected to handle livestock, explain any dress requirements – this may be necessary if there are biosecurity requirements.
- Where animals are involved advise workers if there are any animals which are particularly flighty or to be careful of.
Thanks to Strutt & Parker who were also consulted for information on farm health and safety to produce this article.