What to do if you have a health and safety farm inspection

Hearing that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is planning to visit can be a worrying moment for farmers.

However, taking a proactive approach to health and safety and some simple preparation ahead of the inspection can avoid would-be problems and take much of the stress out of the process, according to Darren Owens of health and safety advisers CXCS.

Here, he highlights four of the main areas livestock farmers are likely to find inspectors focusing on, provides some guidance on how to reduce risks in relation to those, plus shares tips on how to approach the inspection itself.

See also: Q&A: Changes to farm health and safety investigation fees

1. Livestock handling

Make sure gates, runs and crushes are all in good, safe working order. It’s important they’re up-to-date, regularly checked and well maintained.

Try to get in to a mindset where you carry out a ‘pre-start check’.

In the same way that you might walk around a vehicle, checking the tyres, brakes, lights, windscreen wipers and oil levels, do the same with cattle crushes to make sure they open/close and lock correctly.

A quick 30- to 60-second check can save a lot of heartache and money in the long run.

Milking cows are accustomed to moving through pens, races and parlours because they do it so often, but give extra thought to safety when you’re moving stock such as new heifers.

How to approach an HSE inspector’s visit

  • Have all your paperwork organised and ready, and flick through it ahead of the visit to re-familiarise yourself with it
  • Try not to be nervous or defensive – be calm and professional and co-operate with the inspector
  • Tell the inspector about the farm and your approach to health and safety over a coffee – this will put everyone at ease
  • Put yourself in the driving seat. Ask what they want to see and escort them (they’ll typically be happy to be accompanied)
  • Bear in mind they have the right to “examine and investigate” any part of the premises, equipment, and any article or substance
  • If you don’t understand something the inspector says, ask them to explain it again, as they can sometimes use jargon
  • If you have an adviser, ask them to attend. Taking expert advice on health and safety matters means your farm will be safer and your records will be up-to-date, taking the stress out of an inspection.

You can never totally eliminate the risk associated with handling a bull, but you can make sure pens are strong, sturdy and correctly maintained (if they can’t be brought up to this condition, they should be replaced).

2. Working at height

Working on bale stacks, roofs, vehicles and ladders and using unsuitable access equipment, such as buckets, all brings big risks, so it’s important to make sure tasks are suitably planned, supervised and carried out by competent people.

Loading trailers and stacking bales presents dangers, so always check that trailer floors are in good condition and end racks or hay ladders are used.

Full loads should be secured before leaving the field, no one should ride on them, and drivers should indicate clearly before a trailer is moved. 

Bale stacks, meanwhile, should be inspected regularly, and people should stay clear when unloading or unstacking them.

Don’t walk on fragile roofing materials such as asbestos, other fibre cement sheet or glass and always make sure you use enough suitable, properly fixed roof ladders or crawling boards.

Set aside enough time to do the job, plus take account of weather conditions such as light levels, ice, wind and rain.

3. Machinery and equipment

Make sure you’re fully up to speed with your LOLER testing (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations), as well as training on the telehandler (and obviously that anyone else who’ll be involved with machinery has the necessary qualifications and training).

Safety often boils down to traffic management in the yard and making sure people are aware of what everyone else is doing. High-vis clothing is a cheap and effective way of making sure it’s obvious where you are.

First-aid kits are a good idea to have in all vehicles – they should contain a small, laminated emergency list of contact numbers,

Pto-driven kit such as tub feeders, slurry mixers and augers must have all the right guards and be fit for purpose. 

Big machinery, such as tractors and loaders, needs a thorough overhaul at least annually, but for smaller items, it’s recommended you make a visual inspection before every use. 

4. Slurry

Poorly fenced lagoons raise the likelihood of someone falling in and drowning (or doing so attempting to rescue an animal that’s fallen in).

Surrounding them with wire-mesh sheep fencing and two strands of barbed wire is recommended.

Most farmers know the dangers presented by slurry gas, which is fairly odourless and incredibly toxic, but tragedies still happen.

Two breaths can kill you so, whether you have an underground tank, a floor-mounted tower or a pit, always take the proper precautions.

Make sure everybody is aware when and where you’re going to be agitating/spreading slurry, too, and only allow properly trained staff to get involved. 

How long should it take and what happens next?

  • Depending on the size of farm, expect it to take about two hours
  • Inspectors should give you a debrief at the end of the visit, which they may follow up with further communications
  • The options open to them include: no action, verbal advice, written advice, a formal caution, an improvement notice, a prohibition notice or prosecution.