With 29 deaths in the first ten months of 2012-13 then agriculture has retained top spot as the most dangerous industry to work in. All the more worrying therefore that the Health and Safety Executive has been unable to justify the ending of unannounced preventive inspections in the sector.
The changes were adopted following the Department for Work and Pensions’ March 2011 ‘Good for health and safety, good for everyone’ strategy in which it was declared ‘proactive inspection is unlikely to be effective and is not proposed in agriculture.’ This forms part of a plan by Business secretary Vince Cable to “remove unnecessary red tape and put common sense back into health and safety in order to reduce costs for businesses, giving them the confidence to create more jobs and support the wider economy to grow.” Cable has now introduced a legally binding statutory code explicitly outlawing proactive inspections from April onwards in all but ‘high risk areas.’
According to the international awarding winning Hazards magazine there are now 37 sectors without inspectors, including docks, transport, leather, light engineering and agriculture. By using a global network of union safety correspondents, Hazards provides union answers to workplace problems. The magazine challenged the HSE to reveal the documentary evidence “to support an overall reduction in levels of proactive and reactive inspections and enforcement activity.”
The HSE response was to state: “With regard to your request for evidence-based analyses and arguments on which decisions on preventive inspections were based, the information is not held in the form of documentation you request.
“Our approach to inspection and wider intervention is shaped by intelligence from a range of sources.” The organisation would not share this information.
Hazards magazine has stated: ‘The evidence supporting the watchdog’s no inspections policy for even some dangerously notorious workplaces, if it existed, wasn’t in an identified sources.”
Meantime, Britain’s green fields continue to be the killing fields. In the first ten months of 2012-13 their was a 160 recorded deaths at work in Great Britain. 29 were in agriculture, which is equivalent to 18% of those who lost their lives and yet agriculture employs just 1.4% of the total workforce.
Of those killed, seven were employees, fifteen self-employed and seven, including a child aged just one, were members of the public. Coming into contact with machinery and cattle ended the lives of twelve people. Ten also died as a result of falls from a height, including Dean Henderson-Smith, a former Army Sergeant Major who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and died after falling through a barn skylight on an Oxfordshire farm in October 2012. Landworker extends its condolences to the families and friends of all those who have lost their lives working in the agricultural industry. The fear is there will be even more deaths in the future.