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Much of the work in agriculture and food processing is seasonal, short-term and low skilled. This requires a flexible workforce commonly made up of people working under various forms of casual, temporary and seasonal contracts. More than half of the workers in these industries come from overseas.

Seasonal employment is highest in rural areas that have a high demand for workers at peak times of the year, such as during the agricultural harvest. Further information on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) introduced to allow farmers and growers to hire foreign workers (ie Bulgaria or Romanian nationals) to help with agricultural and seasonal work can be found on the Home Office website. SAWS workers carry out low-skilled work including: planting and gathering crops; on-farm processing and packing of crops; and handling livestock.

In agriculture all farm workers work with potentially dangerous machinery, vehicles, chemicals, livestock, at heights or near pits and silos. They are exposed to the effects of bad weather, noise and dust.

Less than 1.5 per cent of the working population is employed in agriculture yet the sector is responsible for between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of fatalities to workers each year.

The main cause of fatalities are: transport (being run over by vehicles), falling from heights, struck by falling, flying or moving object (bales, trees), trapped by something collapsing or overturning and livestock and machinery related problems.

Agricultural work can also be physically demanding and the repetitive nature of the work causes a range of health problems, including severe back pain.

Because reporting of accidents and cases of ill health in the industry is generally poor it is difficult to estimate how many non-fatal injuries and cases of ill health there have been among overseas workers in agriculture in recent years.

Gangmaster licensing

"Gangmaster" is a term widely used in agriculture to describe labour providers, particularly in harvesting, processing and packing agricultural produce. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) was formed in April 2005 by the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to try and prevent gangmasters (some of whom run reputable and legitimate businesses) operating illegally and exploiting their workforce.

The GLA regulates gangmasters through a licensing scheme. From April 2007, it has been illegal to supply workers to the agriculture, shellfish-gathering and associated processing and packaging sectors without a licence.

Licences are issued to those gangmasters who apply and can show that they are complying with certain legal standards, including health and safety. These standards can be found in the current edition of the GLA's "Licensing Standards", available at their website.

Your health and safety at work in agriculture and food processing

This pocket card is aimed at migrant workers and is available in a number of languages. It provides basic and essential information on rights and responsibilities under British health and safety legislation.