The farming industry is one of the most important parts of the British economy, employing nearly half a million people, with an economic value of almost £10bn. However, due to the nature of the work, which can include operating heavy machinery, accidents are a common occurrence.
In fact, statistics gathered by the Health and Safety Executive demonstrate that working in agriculture is the most dangerous occupation in the United Kingdom. According to the details published for 2018/19, farming has a higher accident incident rate than any other industry, and with a fatality rate of 9.2 per 100,000 workers compared to the UK average of 0.45. These figures demonstrate just how dangerous it can be working in agriculture.
Whilst the most common cause of serious or even fatal injuries on farms involves moving and overturning vehicles, the fact of the matter is that the working environment of any farm presents a host of threats and hazards. As well as the vehicles needed, agricultural work also involves using dangerous machinery, working at height or in pits and silos, working with chemicals and substances which generate dust, dealing with noxious or dangerous gasses, and working with livestock. It is also part of the nature of farm work that it often takes place in the open air, thus exposing workers to poor weather conditions, and involves the kind of strenuous physical activity that can lead to injury or painful conditions such as backache.
Although farms are naturally hazardous places, this doesn’t mean that people working or even visiting them should simply accept the fact that accidents are going to happen. Like every other workplace, a farm is covered by the legislation laid out in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Under the auspices of these acts, the owner of the farm, or the person responsible for its’ running, has a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that accidents don’t happen and that both farm workers and visitors enjoy the safest possible environment.
It’s impossible, of course, to eliminate all risk in a place such as a farm, particularly when larger scale factory farms can employ many people and use various types of automated equipment, but if you or someone close to you has been injured or even killed following an accident on a farm then you may be in a position to make a claim for compensation. A successful claim will depend upon demonstrating two different facts; the first is that you have been injured or made unwell due to conditions on the farm and the second is that these conditions arose due to the negligence of the other party. This negligence might involve not providing the proper equipment or safety gear, not offering training, not dealing properly with hazardous substances or anything else which, you feel, the person responsible for your health and safety should have recognised as a risk factor.
One of the best reasons for making a compensation claim following an accident on a farm, over and above the fact that it will allow you to start putting your life back together again, is the fact that successful claims of this kind will help to drive up safety standards in the industry as a whole. The foreword to the HSE guide to safety on farms goes into some detail regarding the extent and scale of the problem:
“The persistently high rates of fatal incidents and work-related ill health in the industry are of real concern to HSE, the representative industry bodies and many farmers. HSE is continually working to use new technologies and innovative methods of communication to improve, target and deliver key health and safety messages and guidance to those working in the industry.” – Graeme Walker, Head of the Agriculture and Food Sector, Health and Safety Executive.
Although only one in every hundred workers in the UK actually works in the agricultural sector, it accounts for as many as one in five of the fatal workplace injuries which take place every year, and the personal injury compensation system is one way of combatting this poor safety record. It should be remembered that the party found to be negligent will be paying compensation from funds provided by insurance which they have a legal duty to take out, rather than, as people sometimes suppose, from their own funds.
The most common farm accidents resulting in death include:
Not all accidents are fatal, of course, but many can have life-changing consequences. Nor do all compensation claims arise as a result of a one-off incident or accident. Many farm workers develop illnesses over the long term which can be traced back to inhaling dangerous dusts, coming into contact with toxic chemicals, being exposed to noise and vibrations and being affected by zoonoses – an umbrella term covering a range of illnesses which can be passed from animals to humans. No matter how the injury or illness occurs, it should be examined in light of the legal duty of care which an employer has. As well as the legislation already mentioned, the person responsible for the running of a farm also has a legal duty to consult with their employees on issues of health and safety, either via union representatives or on a one-to-one basis, and to carry our regular risk assessments of any activities.
If you feel that you’ve been injured or made unwell because the person responsible for the safety of a farm failed to take all reasonable steps to keep you safe, then you may be able to make a claim for compensation. There is a time limit of three years for most claims of this kind, although in the case of an illness such as farmer’s lung, this limit will only run from the date upon which the illness becomes apparent. In order to mount a successful claim, your lawyer will need as much information as possible, including the accounts of any witnesses, the entry in an accident book, medical records kept by anyone who treats you and, if possible, photographs of the scene of the incident, capturing the details of what went wrong.
Any compensation awarded will include a lump sum calculated on the basis of the type and severity of your illness and the limits it places on your future capabilities, and another amount designed to ensure that you do not suffer financially as a result of your accident. This second strand of the compensation, known as “special damages”, covers immediate expenses such as travel costs, medical bills (including any which are expected to arise in the future), and loss of earnings, as well as any future loss of earnings if you are no longer able to work. This might include an amount designed to compensate for a reduced ability to earn a living, or to pay for long term care and expenses such as alterations to buildings or vehicles.
Although solicitors now have to take a ‘success fee’ of up to 25% from any compensation awarded, the no win no fee system still protects claimants from the financial consequences of losing a case, whilst also making it possible to pursue compensation without having to pay up front.
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