Health and safety may not be everybody’s favourite subject, but it has to be taken seriously, especially when it comes to farming.
Bulbourne Farm in Hertfordshire is not your typical egg unit.
As an organic farm, there are some obvious differences, including smaller sheds, less automation and fewer birds to a flock.
But it is also one of Noble Foods’ showcase farms – a place where clients and executives are brought to highlight the best of commercial egg production. As such, procedures are set to the highest standards – especially when it comes to health and safety.
The first thing visitors encounter is a strategically placed wheel wash, fully charged with disinfectant. They are then subjected to a formal induction more akin to what one might expect in a food factory than on a farm.
Biosuits and clean boots are donned, hands are washed. It’s a professional and rigorous approach designed to minimise risk – and liability in the event of an accident.
The same attention to detail is observed around the farm, where the emphasis is on keeping staff and visitors out of harm’s way.
Noble Foods’ policy for all its company-owned farms is to ask all visitors to wear a dust mask. It is a policy that extends to every farmworker, whenever they enter a shed.
The mask must be accredited to FFP3 standards and regularly replaced. Not only this, but workers on company farms are health checked at their induction, and lung capacity monitored every year of service.
If this drops, it is a possible indicator that dust is having a damaging impact on health. “There are some very serious diseases that could come about from long-term exposure to dust and dander – that’s why we take it so seriously,” says Noble Foods’ farm health and safety manager Neil Eastwood.
The HSE suggests any worker exposed to poultry dust should be under suitable health surveillance – a legal obligation for any employer.
Signage can both highlight what farm workers should be doing, and ensure visitors – both welcome and unwelcome – are aware of the site’s standards.
A recent upgrade at Bulbourne Farm has involved the installation of Armco barriers around both the oil and gas tanks on site. “They are right next to the main entrance of the farm, so are close to a lot of traffic movements,” explains farm manager Sam Wait.
Even Noble executives aren’t exempt from a rigorous site induction, and must follow all the biosecurity and health and safety guidelines.
A recent review of machinery on the farm under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations has seen a number of wire mesh guards put in place, preventing access to moving parts and so making safe all possible areas of entrapment. It’s a simple addition that could prevent a nasty accident, says Mr Eastwood.
With a steady flow of egg collection lorries, feed delivery trucks and on farm-vehicles, the dangers are obvious. Staff are fully trained in the safe operation of heavy machinery throughout a farm and a 10mph speed limit is imposed on all vehicles, whether an ATV running through a paddock or an HGV delivering feed.
While the correct procedures are in place at Bulbourne Farm, consider the dangers that multiple lorries and vehicles could present to a family farm with young children. The importance of a well-documented traffic movement plan is self-evident.
Noble Foods has a strict policy ensuring machinery is repaired to a safe and high standard. If, for example, an egg belt breaks, the policy is to call out a professional repair team rather than the farmer trying to fix it himself.
“Farms are often remote and farmers are used to getting on with it, effecting repairs on the hoof,” says Mr Eastwood. “But as we know, that’s when accidents happen. They may not follow procedure, they may overlook something, perhaps they are under some other pressure.
“It’s been a step-change over the last few years – to say, ‘we have got people for that; do not fix it yourself’.”
Mr Eastwood recommends that contracted farmers adopt a similar approach.
Health and safety in numbers
While construction is considered truly the most dangerous occupation, it’s only because it employs more people than agriculture.
According to provisional Health and Safety executive figures, in the 12 months to 1 July, 33 farmworkers lost their lives in the course of their work. It’s the equivalent of 9.12 people for every 100,000 in the sector, higher than any other sector of the economy.