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Agriculture - Frequently asked questions

Tractors and farm vehicles

What are the requirements for maintaining and operating tractors?

People new to a task should receive adequate information and training to do their work safely and effectively. Depending on the nature of the work, the training may vary from simple instructions provided by their supervisor, through to nationally recognised courses providing comprehensive basic training and accredited qualifications.

Recognised standards of formal training and/or competence are normally required for specific tasks or work activities such as using chainsaws, tree work, applying pesticides, driving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), fork-lift trucks or telescopic materials handlers, sheep dipping and first aid.

What is lifting equipment in agriculture?

In agriculture, the term covers a wide range of equipment including:

  • Tractor foreloaders, fork-lift trucks and telescopic handlers (telehandlers)
  • Workshop hoists and rope hoists
  • Cranes on machines (eg on lorries or fertiliser spreaders)
  • Lifting attachments and accessories

The three-point linkage on a tractor is not considered to be lifting equipment if used to lift implements and machines designed to be operated as such on a tractor.

What type of helmet do I need when driving an ATV?

You should always wear an appropriate helmet when riding an ATV. The type of helmet chosen should be based on an assessment of the circumstances in which the ATV will be used, e.g. the types of surface travelled over and anticipated speeds.

The harder the surface and higher the speed the greater the degree of protection needed.

Further information on choosing the appropriate helmet can be found in AIS 33 Safe Use of All Terrain Vehicles in agriculture and forestry.

NB: Forestry helmets and industrial hard hats are not acceptable for any ATV operations.

Training and Vocational Qualifications (VQ)

What are the training requirements in agriculture?

People new to a task should receive adequate information and training to do their work safely and effectively. Depending on the nature of the work, the training may vary from simple instructions provided by their supervisor, through to nationally recognised courses providing comprehensive basic training and accredited qualifications.

Recognised standards of formal training and/or competence are normally required for specific tasks or work activities such as using chainsaws, tree work, applying pesticides, driving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), fork-lift trucks or telescopic materials handlers, sheep dipping and first aid.

Tractors and children

What is the legal age for driving a tractor?

It is against the law to allow a child under 13 to ride on or drive agricultural self-propelled machines (such as tractors) and certain other farm machinery.

The law also requires that employers make sure their risk assessment for young people under the age of 18 takes full account of their inexperience, immaturity and lack of awareness of relevant risks.

The agriculture topic pages on Children - driving or operating farm machinery provide more information.

Risk assessment

How do I undertake a risk assessment on my farm?

Risk assessment is a careful look at what, in your business, could cause harm to people, so that you can decide whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more.

The law does not expect you to eliminate all risk, but to protect people as far as 'reasonably practicable'. Making the assessment and taking action is what matters.

Further guidance is available on the agriculture topic pages.

Toilet and washing facilities

What toilet and washing facilities do I need to provide on my farm for workers?

You must provide welfare facilities to protect workers from risks to their health. You may be able to provide these by allowing access to the farmhouse toilets and washing facilities, but you must ensure that you keep washing facilities and food preparation areas separate.

Facilities must be near the worksite and should be available during all working hours. Further information on the agriculture pages toilet and welfare facilities and in HSE's free leaflet Workplace health, safety and welfare: A short guide for managers are available.

Where remote worksites are used irregularly, for example harvesting crops, portable toilets fitted with adequate washing facilities, including soap and towels, are acceptable.

What washing facilities do I need to provide for visitors?

Where contact with animals is permitted you must provide well-positioned washing facilities for your visitors.

The use of anti bacterial hand gels and cleansing wipes is not an acceptable substitute for proper hand washing

Detailed advice in HSE's free leaflet Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions and on the agriculture web pages safety alert.

If you have visitors to your farm using bed and breakfast accommodation, tea rooms, caravan and camping site or attending events, eg steam fairs, please contact your local Environmental Health Department for advice.


What training do I need for spraying or using pesticides?

Everyone who uses a plant protection product professionally must be trained. In some situations the law requires that users have a recognised certificate of competence or are directly and personally supervised by someone with such a certificate. This requirement applies primarily to those providing a commercial service and who are applying professional agricultural products.

There are exemptions and these are described in the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products which apply to amateur, domestic use and vertebrate control, and in some circumstances to users born before the 31 December 1964. Further information in the Code of Practice.

Additional information on using pesticides safely can be found on the agriculture topic pages.

The requirements for certification will continue until October/November 2011 when a new UK Regulation which implements the Sustainable Use Directive (SUD) - Directive 2009/128/EEC - comes into force.

Who do I contact if I am concerned about the misuse or spraying of pesticides?

If you, your family, wildlife, or the environment, have been affected by exposure to pesticides you are strongly advised to report it. The department to contact depends on the type of incident you wish to report. Such incidents are taken very seriously but they need to be reported as soon as possible for an effective investigation to be undertaken.

Most of the pesticide-related complaints referred to HSE are concerns about the storage and use of pesticides (plant protection products or biocides) on farms, which mainly involve drift from spraying operations.

If you feel unwell or are worried about your health, you should seek medical advice. If possible, obtain as much information about the spray that caused the incident as you can as this will help your GP or doctor. Once you have done this, you should report the incident to the HSE office nearest to the area where the incident took place.

Further information is available on reporting complaints or concerns.

Pesticides and veterinary medicines

What are the requirements when using veterinary medicines and sheep dips?

Veterinary medicines and sheep dips may contain hazardous substances. If mishandled, they can make you ill, harm the sheep or pollute the environment.

As with other substances hazardous to health before using these medicines and dips you should:

  • carry out an assessment of the risks [a 'COSHH' assessment]  by finding out what harmful effects the product might have, if any, and estimate the exposure of people who may come into contact with it.
  • Consider using a less harmful product, if possible
  • Use control measures to reduce the exposure of your staff to the product and check that the controls are working and your staff are using them
  • Keep everyone informed of the risks and precautions needed, consulting employees and safety representatives if your business has them
  • Review all the above regularly or if the nature of the work changes.

In addition to issues about the use of these products, you should make sure that appropriate records are maintained, that disposal arrangements for containers and used products comply with the Environment Agency or Scottish Environment Agency requirements and that the transport and storage of the products follows the appropriate guidelines.

Further guidance is available on the agriculture topic pages and provided in HSE’s free leaflets:

Ammonium nitrate storage

Who do I notify that I am storing ammonium nitrate and what measures do I need to take?

From 6 April 2013, the requirements to notify storage of ammonium nitrate have changed. Under the Dangerous Substances (Notification and Marking of Sites) Regulations 1990 (NAMOS), there are legal requirements relating to notification and marking of sites that store certain amounts of dangerous substances or ‘relevant ammonium nitrate mixtures’

HSE has also produced a self-help checklist to help duty holders to determine if they have taken sufficient measure to ensure the safe storage and handling of the material. More detailed guidance is contained in HSE's free leaflet INDG230 Storing and Handling Ammonium Nitrate .

Cattle and public access

What are the requirements for keeping cattle in fields with public access?

If you keep cattle in fields where either the public have a statutory right of access or you have given permission for members of the public to be present you should:

  • ensure that bulls [i.e. uncastrated and aged 10 months or over] of recognised dairy breeds are not kept in those fields under any circumstances.
  • ensure that bulls of all other breeds are only kept in fields with public access if accompanied by cows or heifers.

Keepers of animals are in most cases held legally responsible for injuries caused by their stock. Before putting any cattle, including bulls, in fields with public access you should assess their likely behaviour when members of the public – perhaps walking dogs or with children - are present. If possible, keep cows with calves a foot away from fields with public access.

Consider the nature of the particular cattle you intend to put in fields with public access. Check that paths are clearly marked and that fences are secure and well maintained.

If you have an animal known to be aggressive you should not keep it in a field with public access. It is good practice to display signs warning the public when a bull or cows with calves are present in an area. These signs should not be misleading and must be taken down or covered when bulls etc are no longer present.

More detailed advice is provided in HSE’s free leaflets:

Children on farms

What do I need to do to keep children safe on a farm?

Children who live on farms and their friends can find farms exciting places to explore.  Unfortunately, they regularly have accidents on farms and each year some children are seriously hurt or die as a result.

You should consider the risks to children from vehicles and machinery, falls, falling objects, drowning and asphyxiation, injury and ill health from animals, fire and hazardous substances.

Remember, children can be killed or seriously injured by incidents that may not cause serious harm to adults.

More information about children operating agricultural machinery is given in the section on 'Children and tractors'.

More detailed advice in HSE’s free leaflet 'Preventing accidents to children on farms' and the agriculture topic pages on children and public safety - what you need to do.

Farm buildings, equipment and plant

What precautions do I need to take if I have an overhead power line (OHPL) on my farm?

If OHPLs run across your land, ask your distribution network operator (DNO) if they can be re-routed, put underground, or raised. If that cannot be done, make sure you have a map of the routes of the lines (available from your DNO) and that visiting workers such as contractors have copies (include details of OHPLs in contracts).

More detailed advice on the electricity topic pages.

How do I manage asbestos on my farm building?

Most farms buildings will have some asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), eg compressed asbestos-cement roof sheets, cladding in poultry sheds, building partitions or rainwater gutters and down pipes. 

Further advice on asbestos and the duty to manage in:

What training do I need to operate a chainsaw?

Chainsaws are dangerous machines and it is essential that users have received appropriate training.

Further information on the safe use of chainsaws, including training requirements in HSE's free leaflet Chainsaws at work.

Additional guidance for those involved in tree work is also available on the treework website topic pages working with chainsaws and Free Leaflets - Tree work