Union says roving reps will improve safety on Britain’s farms


As a staggering one in five workplace deaths happen on Britain’s farms, Unite is renewing its call to the government to introduce roving safety reps and is calling on the National Farmers Union (NFU) to ensure that this and the health and safety of workers is firmly on the agenda during its annual conference, which begins today.

At almost one-death-per-week, agricultural workers are more likely to be killed at work than in any other industry, yet the government – in its aim to ‘ease the burden of bureaucracy’ – has deemed it not necessary to warrant ‘proactive inspections’ in agriculture. Although the government has identified agriculture as an area of concern in its policy document ‘Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone’, it states agriculture is an industry “where proactive inspection is unlikely to be effective”. Unite finds this completely unacceptable.

Unite is renewing its call on the government to introduce roving safety reps to check working practices as the latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (see notes) show that agriculture is by far the most dangerous industry to work in. Agricultural workers also stand the greatest risk of suffering major injuries and work-related ill-health.

The recently published International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Code of Practice, ‘Safety and Health in Agriculture’, recognises the value of tripartite co-operation to ensure that farm workers receive the same level of health and safety protection as workers in other sectors. The ILO Code also reinforces the value of developing a system of workers’ roving safety representatives trained and accredited to help employers and workers improve health and safety standards on farms.

Unite national officer Cath Speight said: “Unite has repeatedly called for the introduction of roving safety reps to visit farms. These shocking statistics are the biggest argument for that issue to be raised again.

“Other high-risk industries, particularly construction, have seen death and accident rates fall over the years. But this has not happened in agriculture and for many years now Britain’s farms have been the most dangerous workplaces in the land.

“It is the responsibility of the employer, the farmer, to see that all safety procedures and legislation are followed and that all employees fully understand safety instructions, including causal and migrant workers whose first language may not be English and may have difficulty understanding what they are being told.

“If roving reps could visit and see that farmers are complying with health and safety legislation, we believe this high level of accidents and deaths would be reduced. Unionised workplaces are the safest workplaces.”

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