Farmers are required to assess and manage Covid-19 risks during the harvest period as part of their wider legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of their farm workers.
Farm businesses have continued to operate throughout the coronavirus outbreak, with social distancing and hygiene measures in place, but the run up to harvest is a good time to check working practices comply with updated government guidance.
Many farms will also be employing casual harvest staff, so it is important to ensure that everyone has the same understanding of what safe working in a coronavirus pandemic looks like.
This guidance could be delivered as part of a wider pre-harvest safety briefing, reminding everyone of how to protect themselves from accidents and manage risks during what can be a busy and challenging period.
Latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive show the number of fatal injuries to agricultural, forestry and fishing workers fell to their lowest level on record during 2019/20, dropping to 20 from 39 the previous year.
While this is clearly a step in the right direction, one fatality is too many and ongoing vigilance and improvements are therefore still required.
Areas which should be covered in a pre-harvest safety briefing include:
General safety matters:
- Provide all workers with information on the location of first aid kits, accident books, assembly points, fire extinguishers and electric isolation points.
- Workers should know who the qualified first aiders, how to record any accidents and injuries and who to report any machinery damage or defects to.
- Provide everyone with a copy of the farm’s working health and safety policy, risk assessments and safe systems of work, and workers should sign to confirm they have read and will comply with them for the duration of their employment.
- Workers should be given a map showing the location of all overhead and underground services.
- If taking on temporary workers, assess their competence and check what certificates
- they hold and take a copy of them.
- If employees are not instructed and trained in the use of machinery or equipment, they must not operate it unless under the direct supervision of a qualified member of staff or trainer.
- Ensure that machinery servicing and maintenance, including record keeping, is up-to-date. Particularly check the condition of grain trailers and have the brakes tested.
- Make sure everyone is familiar with the safe stop policy. This requires drivers to use the handbrake, put the controls in neutral, switch off the engine and remove the key every time they leave the seat or when anyone else approaches.
Employers should familiarise themselves with the latest government guidance on working safely during coronavirus, but areas to consider include:
Vehicles and machinery:
- Restrict the rotation of employees between vehicles and machinery. Keep the same employee to the same tractor as far as possible, although this will be harder for machinery such as telehandlers and trucks.
- Ensure hand wipes and sanitiser are available in all vehicles and machinery. Use as often as is required, especially before eating, drinking or smoking.
- Ensure frequent cleaning (ideally daily) of regularly touched objects and surfaces such as vehicle keys, door handles and fuel pumps.
- Ensure regular cleaning of vehicles, in particular between different users.
- Minimise the number of people travelling together in any one vehicle. For example, avoid carrying three or four employees in one, double cab farm truck – instead, use multiple vehicles where these are available.
- Avoid carrying passengers in tractors and combine harvesters.
- Ventilate vehicles to increase the flow of air by opening a window.
- Encourage delivery and collection drivers to stay in their vehicles.
- Provide signage to remind employees to maintain social distancing. This should be displayed in a prominent position that is accessible to all employees, such as on the health and safety board in a welfare room, as well as in busy areas such as the workshop.
- Where it is safe to do so, change or redesign tasks so they only need one employee to complete them and so social distancing can be maintained. For example, use a wheel removal trolley when changing tyres on agricultural machinery to reduce the number of employees required.
- Consider introducing temporary pedestrian walkways to allow employees to maintain social distancing when moving around the workplace. This would be appropriate in locations such as potato packhouses or other fresh produce processing facilities where footfall is likely to be high.
- Have a programme of frequent cleaning (ideally daily) for regularly touched objects and surfaces such as building keys, door handles, grease guns, pillar drills, grinders and lathes.
- Physically arrange work areas to keep employees two metres apart.
- Use screens or barriers to separate employees from each other when working in the workshop or undertaking other physical or manual tasks such as machinery servicing and maintenance.
- Mark work areas using floor paint or tape in the farm office as a visual reminder to maintain social distancing.
- Use back-to-back or side-to-side working, rather than face-to-face.
- Reduce the number of people in high traffic areas, such as workshops, mess rooms and weighbridge offices.
- Ensure ventilation systems are set to operate continuously on 100% fresh supply with limited recirculation.
- Make sure there are adequate waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection.
Communication and planning:
- Share new information about safety guidelines with your employees as soon as possible.
- Consult with employees by listening and talking to them about how the Covid-19 risk will be managed. They are often the best people to understand the risks in the workplace and will have a view on how to work safely. Involving them in making decisions shows that you take their health and safety seriously and, at its most effective, creates a culture where relationships between employers and employees are based on collaboration, trust and joint problem-solving.
- Agree how you will respond after someone falls ill at work. Is the incident RIDDOR reportable? Does the workplace need to be thoroughly cleaned or sanitised before work resumes? What additional precautions need to be taken? Do other employees require testing?
- Make sure employees know what the current guidelines are about self-isolation if they or someone in their household has symptoms of coronavirus.
- Develop a business continuity contingency plan which identifies how the operations of the business will continue in the event of one or more employees developing symptoms of Covid-19. Who will operate the combine and sprayer? Who has received the necessary training and instruction, and has adequate knowledge and experience? Who is telehandler trained? How will the autumn cultivation and drilling plan be adapted if fewer employees or operators are available?
- Continue providing the PPE that you would normally use to protect your employees to protect against grain dust, welding fumes or dryer noise. In terms of managing the risk of Covid-19 the government guidance states: “additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial…Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against Covid-19.”
Common areas and welfare facilities:
- Use outside areas for breaks if the locations are suitable and it is safe to do so.
- Set clear guidance for the use of any common areas and welfare facilities and stagger start, finish and break times to reduce pressure. Employees should bring in their own food and refreshments.
- Physically move tables and chairs so they are at least two metres apart.
- Ensure frequent cleaning of regularly touched objects and surfaces such as building keys, door handles, kettles, microwaves, chairs and tables.
- Keep common areas clean by providing adequate waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection.
For further information on pre-harvest health and safety briefings contact Robert Gazely.