Keith Short, machinery inspection engineer at Farmers and Mercantile Insurance Brokers (FMIB), has said there is confusion within the farming community over what constitutes an ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ inspection during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Although emergency extensions have been granted during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as MOTs and first aid certificates, the law for Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) requirements remains in place.
“Farmers are an essential cog in the food production machine and are absolutely critical during these trying times,” said Keith.
“But farmers need to remember how heavily they rely on their machinery to carry out this crucial work. Ensuring farm machinery is in safe, working order is not only key to keeping operations going during the pandemic but it is imperative for the survival of farmers, their workers, the business and its reputation.
“Engineering certificates demonstrate that the farmer maintained the machine, that it is in good, safe working order, and is suitable for further use.
“During the period of the outbreak, HSE has said that farmers must be able to demonstrate that they have made all reasonable attempts to have the thorough examination and testing (TE&T) carried out within the required timescales.
“However, if equipment is to continue in use without TE&T, then farmers must assess the increased risk and take appropriate action to manage it.
“Farmers and their workers face potentially fatal risks on a daily basis, and that is only magnified during times of upheaval, such as this. Now is certainly not the time for complacency and protecting personal and employee health should remain top priority.”
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) and LOLER regulations require equipment used at work to be suitable and safe for use, correctly installed, maintained and used, and to have suitable health and safety controls and markings. PUWER applies to all machinery, whilst LOLER only applies to lifting equipment, including tractor foreloaders, fork-lift trucks and telescopic handlers to hoists, cranes on machines, and lifting attachments. With LOLER, some extra requirements apply.
By having PUWER and LOLER inspections on farm machinery and equipment, farmers are complying with HSE Regulations, which are legal requirements.
If through an inspection or incident investigation HSE finds that the regulations were breached or there was negligence, farmers face prosecution or significant fines.
PUWER and LOLER inspections should be undertaken by an inspector with the relevant engineering experience and knowledge.
“Agriculture is the most dangerous industry to work in, with a fatality rate that significantly outstrips other sectors,” said Keith.
“Thirty-nine people were killed in agriculture in 2018/19 and the highest number of deaths were vehicle-related, with eight deaths involving telehandlers or excavator buckets.
“As well as ensuring they are legally covered in the eventuality of an incident, engineering inspections offer farmers peace of mind that they are doing everything in their power to ensure the safety of themselves, their staff and the people around them.
“Identifying faults in equipment before they fail can also prolong the life of the equipment and reduce future capital expenditure – which can pay dividends as the industry heads towards uncertain economic times.
“In this climate, it is understandable that other health and safety concerns are at the forefront of farmers’ minds and that they are reluctant to welcome visitors on-site.
“However, the health and safety of our engineers and our clients is paramount and enhanced protective measures will be taken during inspections, including the use of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), robust cleaning procedures and social distancing.
“Managing risk is an integral part of every farming business and creating a safer environment for farmers and their workers is our top priority – both for now and for the future.”