Workplace safety and welfare

What you need to know...

The law protects the health and safety of everyone in the workplace, and to ensure that adequate welfare facilities are provided for people at work. It sets out precautions that must be taken before work in a confined space, and requires a safety sign where there is significant risk to health and safety not controlled by other methods. The key issues are:

What you need to do...

We have covered many of the specific risks on your farm in other topics. You also need to look at the activities that take place in your workplace as a whole.

Railway crossings

Do you have a railway level crossing on your farm? If you do, you need to ensure that both you and others (your employees, contractors etc) who use the level crossing, are informed of the procedures and steps to follow to use the crossing safely.

See the following ORR guidance or contact ORR for further advice.

General workplace safety

  • Slips, trips and falls can happen anywhere in workplaces, such as in buildings or yards.  Deal with spillages promptly - Don't leave it to someone else to sort out.
  • Make sure no one can fall from open edges such as catwalks above grain bins or feed lofts.   Provide guard rails or barriers.  You must also take action if there is a risk of injury from falls into tanks, pits or onto projecting objects.
  • Check working areas are free from obstructions, such as trailing cables, sacks or pallets and there is enough space for storing tools and materials.  Cables can be re-routed to a safe position.
  • Keep your buildings and facilities  in good repair, making sure floors are not overloaded, especially in feed lofts or older buildings.
  • Remember visiting workers such as lorry drivers and vets are also at risk and you have a duty to ensure they are safe when they are on your premises or farm.
  • Provide safe means of access – eg handrails on stairs and ramps where necessary, and safety hoops or rest stages on long vertical fixed ladders used regularly, eg external access to grain bins;
  • Avoid creating slippery surfaces eg good drainage in wet processes such as vegetable washing areas or dairies, and keep outdoor routes salted, sanded and swept during icy conditions;
  • Install adequate and suitable lighting. Use natural light where possible but try to avoid glare. Note that some fluorescent tubes flicker and can be dangerous, making rotating machinery appear stationary. Well-lit outside areas will also help security;
  • Maintain adequate temperature and ventilation including fresh air when working inside;
  • Display safety signs where a significant risk to health and safety remains after you have taken other control measures identified by your risk assessment.

General workplace health

Workplaces can cause health problems, so make sure you provide:

  • seats with a backrest supporting the small of the back and, if needed, a footrest, where workers need to be seated, eg vegetable grading;
  • machine controls designed and arranged to provide a comfortable working position;
  • engineering controls, eg local exhaust ventilation systems, to reduce health risks from harmful substances such as grain dust;
  • well-designed tools and working areas to reduce hand and forearm injury caused by repetitive movements, eg on vegetable or fruit grading lines.

Toilet and welfare facilities in agriculture

If you employ anyone (however short the period) you must provide adequate and appropriate welfare facilities for them while they are at work. 'Welfare facilities' include:

  • clean, well-ventilated toilets;
  • wash basins with hot and cold (or warm) running water, soap and towels (or a hand dryer);
  • portable toilet and washing facilities for workers working away from base;
  • changing facilities where special clothing is worn;
  • drinking water; and
  • somewhere to rest and eat meals.

Use of toilet and washing facilities within dwellings

If you have just one employee, it may be acceptable for them to use either the facilities in their home or the home of the employer, provided that:

  • the home is located on, or very close to, the site;
  • the facilities are accessible from the outside, eg with no need to enter the house, and the washing facilities are not in areas used for food preparation;
  • the facilities are available during working hours, even if the occupant of the house is out; and
  • there are agreed arrangements, for replenishing paper, soap, towels, etc and cleaning the toilets and washing facilities.

Where up to three people are employed, it may be acceptable to extend the above arrangements, if:

  • proper arrangements, preferably in writing, and including replenishment of soap, paper, cleaning, etc, are agreed with staff; and
  • employees are content with the arrangements; and
  • management appear to have the ability and will to make the arrangements work properly.

Remote worksites – temporary facilities

For remote worksites portable toilet and washing facilities are acceptable. For example:

  • Work at a grain store or other remote building that may be seasonal or short-lived – eg a few weeks at harvest, followed by the odd day thereafter. In this case, temporary facilities should be provided during the harvest period, but no special arrangements are required for other times (provided a vehicle is available and the employer accepts that staff can travel back to the main site to use facilities provided there).
  • Harvesting by casual or gang labour. In this case, permanent or temporary facilities should be provided in or very close to the harvest site during the entire period of work. Management arrangements for cleaning, replenishing soap and paper, etc will need to be agreed and maintained.

The number of toilets will depend on the number of workers on site and the type of facilities provided. Portable toilets have a limited capacity and will need emptying. A toilet to person ratio of 1:7 is recommended for toilets that are emptied once a week.

Sanitary waste disposal should be provided in temporary facilities used by female workers.

Washing facilities at remote worksites will be required during the main periods of work, and clean running water (or clean containerised water if running water is not available), with soap and towels and a receptacle for the water, will be adequate.

At other times, if staff are likely to be in contact with chemicals or micro-organisms, eg from fumigation activities, sheep dipping, or muck handling, identical facilities will be needed.

Further information

Confined spaces

A confined space is anywhere that, because it is enclosed, results in a risk of serious injury from fire or explosion, loss of consciousness from lack of oxygen, drowning, or asphyxiation. Confined spaces on farms include:

  • produce stores such as grain/forage silos and bins,
  • controlled atmosphere fruit and vegetable stores;
  •  slurry stores, pits, tanks and chambers or similar areas eg beneath livestock buildings
  • grain elevator pits, ventilation tunnels, or similar features in grain stores.
  • vehicle inspection pits in workshops

There have been fatal accidents  in confined spaces on farms. Sometimes more than one person has been killed – the second person often being a would-be rescuer entering the confined space without taking safety precautions. If you have areas which present any of these risks you must:

  • avoid working in the confined space if you can. Consider if the work can be done from outside.
  • if you really have to work in a confined space, follow a safe system of work. Factors to consider when devising a safe system of work are:
    • the need for competent people;
    • testing the atmosphere to make sure it can support life, and does not contain dangerous levels of gases such as hydrogen sulphide;
    • whether the area is adequately ventilated before entry;
    • providing personal protective equipment, including breathing apparatus;
  • make arrangements in case something goes wrong. Never enter the confined space without making proper emergency arrangements. Provide rescue equipment, including harnesses and safety lines. Ensure you can rapidly notify the emergency services if you need urgent assistance.
  • Forage tower and sealed moist grain silos are confined spaces. They should not be entered without appropriate safety precautions because of the danger of high concentrations of toxic gases and oxygen depletion. Anyone entering must follow the procedures for working in confined spaces shown above.

For further information on managing the risks from slurry please see Working Safely with Slurry.

Spaces with limited ventilation

  • Gases can also build up to dangerous levels in areas that have restricted ventilation. Slurry gases can be present in slatted cattle housing or poorly ventilated areas as well as confined spaces. Hydrogen sulphide is highly toxic, heavier than air and odourless at high concentrations. 
  • Consider where gases may build up and not be dispersed by draughts and breezes, eg if your reception pit is in a depression in the ground, or positioned between buildings. 
  • Put up signs warning gases may be present and make sure everyone on the farm knows to avoid these areas during operations such as slurry agitation.
  • Nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide can be present in silage clamps, particularly under the sheeting – nitrogen dioxide can cause permanent damage to your throat and lungs and can kill. Nitrogen dioxide is heavier than air and can collect around the edges and walls of the silage clamp. Good ventilation will disperse these gases but gases trapped under the sheeting will still be present. 
  • Never crawl under silage clamp sheeting. 
  • Make sure children do not play in this area. 
  • Avoid the risk of gases being generated by careful clamp consolidation and completed, well-sealed clamp sheeting.

Fire precautions in workplaces

Assess the risks if a fire were to break out, and make sure that:

  • you have safe means of escape, kept free from obstructions and clearly marked;
  • everyone knows what to do if a fire starts, especially how to raise the alarm. Display fire action instructions and have a fire drill periodically;
  • any fire alarms work (check them weekly) and that people can hear them everywhere over normal background noise;
  • you have enough extinguishers, of the right type, to deal promptly with small outbreaks of fire
  • workers know how to use the extinguishers;
  • you keep all extinguishers serviced and maintained.

Fertiliser storage

Store all fertilisers safely. Special requirements apply for the storage of ammonium nitrate (AN) fertiliser. As an oxidising agent, it can help other materials to burn and in certain circumstances it can explode and give off toxic fumes.

  • Storage buildings should be constructed of non-combustible material and should not contain other combustible materials.
  • Where this is not reasonably practicable, store AN fertilisers as far away as possible from combustible materials and never within 2m of them.
  • If you are storing  over 25 tonnes of dangerous substances or 150 tonnes or more of AN (where the nitrogen content exceeds 15.75% by weight), you must notify your local Fire & Rescue Service.
  • Further details of notification requirements

Consider the specific risks on your farm

Do you use mobile gas heaters, eg in caravans or for gas brooders? Are they maintained and placed in areas with adequate ventilation for workers?

Have you introduced new risks, eg biodiesel production? Consider where are you making it and where are you storing it – and whether your safety precautions are adequate.

Are you diversifying, eg with open farms, holiday accommodation or shops? Have you carried out a risk assessment identifying the hazards faced by the general public, and assessed the risks, so you can implement  suitable control measures?  For example you may need to consider:

  • Increased presence of children
  • vehicle movements
  • traffic organisation
  • Interaction with farming activities, access to livestock etc

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