Friday, 26 October 2012

Coalition set to kill kids

The death of any child is a tragedy. So when you realise the Government is proposing to scrap an effective tool in preventing children from suffering serious injuries and deaths from agriculture then you have to question whether the coalition has a heart.

The Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) on Preventing Accidents to children in agriculture has legal status and was first published in 1988. It was clearly needed as a year earlier Stephen Vallance aged six was crushed to death under the wheels of his father’s tractor.  

Stephen had fallen from the tractor trailer and his grieving father, Graham, was not consoled by “everyone telling me I am not to blame as I have to live with this for the rest of my life.” 

Graham Vallance, a farmer in Bere Alston, near Tavistock, Devon: “Hoped other farmers will see the dangers so that the same kind of accident doesn’t happen again.”  Sadly it is not possible to report that to be the case, but research by Unite’s Health and Safety Section reveals a significant drop in injuries and deaths over the years.

Between 1986 and 1997/8 there were 66 children killed in agricultural accidents. 300 were seriously injured. In the years since then the figures have totalled 29 and 153. Instead of 6 deaths annually there are now 2. 

Unite has worked closely with the HSE in promoting the ACOP within rural communities, helping produce two jointly badged guidance leaflets on child safety aimed at farmers and which were widely distributed to schools and other organisations. Industry seminars were organised and a seconded HSE agriculture inspector, Mike Walters, worked successfully with Unite to cut the number of tragic incidents. The partnership clearly worked because whilst the overall number of agricultural deaths has remained at a (sadly too high a) steady level, that involving children has fallen. 

All this is now under threat. Professor Ragnar Loftstedt was commissioned last year by the Government to review Britain’s health and safety laws. 

Loftstedt’s recommendations included withdrawing the ACOP guidance on child safety on agriculture, substituting instead what the HSE describes as ‘more practical guidance available in other HSE publications more suited to the target audience.’ According to the HSE guidance from the agricultural industry is also on its way. Asked however to clarify what this might consist of, the HSE was unable to say. 

This concerns Cath Speight who says, “Industry guidance won’t have the legislative powers of an approved ACOP, which is enforceable and can impose measures against employers found not to be compliant. This is another attempt by the government to trivialise workplace health and safety in extremely dangerous workplaces.”

A consultation period on Loftstedt’s recommendations has just ended. Unite responded seeking to retain ACOP and National Health and Safety Adviser Susan Murray argues “It would be far more sensible, and safer, to update the ACOP to take account of legislative changes and relaunch it as part of a new farm safety campaign coupled with a programme or proactive enforcement by the HSE.”  Kids lives now depend on this Government listening to reason.  

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