© Tim Scrivener

Why farmers should have a health and safety emergency plan

Agriculture has a proven track record of workplace-related accidents – industry employs 2% of the UK workforce, yet is responsible for 20% of workplace fatalities.

However, injury and death are only two cases on a farm that result in an immediate emergency response.

Add to that list fires, explosions, chemical spills, agricultural machinery hitting a railway bridge or power cable, and a forage or grain trailer overturning on the road. The nature of farming comes with an element of risk.

Although not required by law, every farm must have emergency procedures in place to allow incidents to be responded to quickly, efficiently and collaboratively, says Rob Gazelle, partner at agricultural consulting firm Ceres Revoral.

See also: How to work safely near overhead power lines on farmland

This document will give clear guidance in a time of inevitable shock and confusion, he says.

It should identify key contacts, including farm workers—particularly identifying those who have been trained in first aid—and outside consultants such as the agronomist and the health and safety advisor.

Also included should be key actions such as calling the emergency services, defining who will coordinate with emergency services and regulatory authorities, recommends Mr. Gasley.

So what should be included and how can farmers act on it?

Water sources

Listing the locations of the nearest water sources—a reservoir, river, lake, or pond—can save precious minutes on a fire.

These may be on the farm, or they may be located on a nearby property.

This is just one example of why the plan is important for a small farm without employees, says Gazelle, as it is for a larger operation with a workforce.

“It serves as an information reference point for emergency services,” he says.

Who does what and when?

Provide brief factual details of the processes that everyone on the farm must follow and the lines of responsibility in each emergency scenario.

“It can be as simple as who will open the gates, and who will move any machine out of the way if access is blocked,” Gasley says.

Assigning personnel to perform different actions Ensure that all relevant personnel, regardless of their normal role, understand what they should do in an emergency, eg how to sound an alarm, how to use emergency equipment, and who they should receive instructions from.

Contact Information

From real estate manager or farm manager to various permanent and temporary employees, list everyone’s contact details.

Relevant emergency services numbers should also be included.

While 999 is the number most people know to call in an emergency, there are other numbers that are useful – for example, calling 105 from a mobile phone will connect the caller to the local power grid distribution operator if calling an overhead power line, To enable the local network to be isolated and to make it secure at the earliest opportunity.

Other helpful contacts to include are National Gas (08001111999), the Director of Health and Safety (0345300 9923), the Environment Agency for Chemical Spill or Pollution Incidents (0800 80 70 60), or, in areas mandated, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and the Environment Agency in Northern Ireland (again 0800 80 70 60 for both) and Natural Resources Wales (0300 065 3000).

Show the plan

The emergency response plan will form an intrinsic part of the health and safety policy file maintained at the farm office, but it should also be printed, laminated, and displayed in locations such as the workshop or employee rest area.

The Cab Card is also useful – a hardcopy, laminated A5 copy of the plan that can be displayed and carried on agricultural machinery such as a tractor, sprayer or combine harvester so that it is available to employees away from their place of work.

Location information

For field fires, limiting location details to road names or zip codes can slow down the emergency response.

Mr. Ghazly instead recommends using What3Words to locate the incident within 3 square metres.

“In the case of a machine fire, for example, it can make the difference between a machine that takes a day to fix and being a complete write-off,” he says.

Include What3Words for key sites and resources such as pesticide and fertilizer stores and fuel tanks, he adds.

“It may also be helpful to list What3Words locations for fire collection point, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, gas and electrical isolation points, and the nearest defibrillator.”

Proactively interact with the local fire and rescue service

Inviting the fire and rescue service to the farm can be mutually beneficial.

A planned visit allows them to learn about site characteristics such as the layout of the buildings and the location of the water sources.

“Allowing them access to conduct drills in confined spaces such as grain bins and silos provides an invaluable training opportunity, and introduces them to the farm,” says Mr. Gazilli.

Professional advice

Freddy Braithwaite Exley, of A-Plan Rural Insurance, says the more a farmer can do to manage his or her own risk, the better the outcome in the event of an emergency.

In addition to having a comprehensive farm risk management plan—including a fire safety and hazard assessment—to be followed by all farm employees and others on the farm, a formalization of the building maintenance program is advised.

“This will allow essential work to be done in times of downtime,” he says.

It is recommended that employees be trained in the risks, jobs and equipment they are exposed to, as well as review of the business insurance claims history to identify recurrent and avoidable losses.

Insurers are often bound by time limits, so accidents and claims should be reported promptly, advises Mr. Braithwaite-Exley.

The same applies to other legal cases. He recommends “notifying your insurance company as soon as you become aware of an event that may require legal assistance.”

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