Health and safety breach farmer speaks out

A farmer convicted of a safety breach has accused health and safety chiefs of singling him out.

Peter Kirby, a farmer with more than 40 years’ experience, was photographed lifting two workers in a grain bucket on a telehandler up to a barn roof at Newton Valence Farm in Alton, Hampshire.

Although no one was injured in the incident, Health and Safety Executive officers investigated the incident and charged him with breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act. He was fined £330 and told to pay £1,757 in court costs.

However, Mr Kirby has accused the HSE of publishing a “misleading, one-sided” press statement which did not include any mitigating factors.

Mr Kirby said he had no idea why the executive attributed their photograph to a “concerned member of the public”. Instead, he said a person known to him had taken the picture and sent it to the HSE.

The court was told that Mr Kirby had used the telehandler despite having attended a farm safety day run by the HSE less than a year before, where a dummy had been dropped from a grain bucket attached to a forklift truck to demonstrate the risks.

But he insisted that his team carried out a safety assessment on farm before repairing the roof – and the grain bucket was considered as the best option.

“A man-cage was initially used but found to be unsafe because the two men involved would have had to climb and lead out to do the job,” said Mr Kirby.

“The HSE says this is not recommended. My team and I did a risk assessment and decided to use the bucket. Would a ladder have been better? No, carrying sheets up a ladder was unsafe. Tower scaffolding would have been unstable on the uneven ground and they would still had to lean out. Cherry picker? No training or experience on this equipment, unlike the loader.

“The HSE commented in court that the job was not important. So, are we to just let farm buildings fall into disrepair and become unsafe?”

He added that all these options carry an HSE advisory warning, but as he understood it, were not against the law.

“The recommended assessments were carried out, they (HSE) did not agree with our decision but at least we tried.”

Within an hour of successfully completing the job, two HSE officers turned up at his farm, courtesy of them being sent the picture. But Mr Kirby questioned why it took the executive 14 months to take him to court.

Following a bad year, he expected the HSE would be “cutting farmers a bit of slack” and trying their best to “help with advice and warnings if necessary”.

Mr Kirby said the HSE missed an opportunity to show some understanding and encourage farmers to work together.

But the HSE defended its coverage of the case and insisted Mr Kirby had not been singled out. A spokesman said: “HSE has a duty to enforce the law which exists to protect people at work. We publicise all our cases. Any decision to prosecute is not taken on someone’s experience or previous record, it is taken on the severity of the offences.”

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