Agricultural contractors provide specialist services to many farmers, taking on the jobs they can do more quickly and efficiently because they have the right equipment and appropriately-trained staff. They often lead the way in terms of the latest machinery, but also need to lead on health and safety for their workforce, machinery and overall operations. Nigel Box from 4R Reassurance gives some expert guidance on what to look for when employing contractors.
Are the staff competent drivers?
When recruiting staff, contractors need to check driver competence – skills, knowledge, ability, attitude, training and experience. New staff may need to start with lower risk jobs until they’ve undertaken adequate training and built up experience. Checking driving licence validity routinely is good practice. A driver can supply an employer with a unique code via the government website: www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence. This can reveal any penalty points or disqualifications.
Tractor capabilities have developed significantly in the past 30 years especially in terms of speed, size and weight and with the permitted tractor and trailer combination weight at 31 tonnes, driver competence must be considered by the contractor when allocating jobs. Equipment safety is also vital, with maintenance and checks carried out on all safety features before use. This in an area many contractors pride themselves on so those who do it well will probably welcome being questioned on it. Drivers have a duty of care to report any defects to safety features so daily checks must be made before using their respective equipment. This includes walking around the equipment to check tyre condition and pressure, hydraulic hoses, linkage, mirrors, lights and guarding. When starting the equipment, brakes need to be checked and mirrors set in the correct positions before moving off. Defects should be reported and repaired immediately.
Mobile phones are an essential form of communication nowadays, particularly for lone workers and in emergency situations. But too many tractor drivers are seen using their phone while driving on the roads. This is both illegal and gives farming a bad image. Contractors should have a mobile phone policy in place giving clear instructions on the use of phones, instructing drivers to pull over into a safe location to make a call. Hands-free equipment is available, although it’s worth bearing in mind it still reduces driver concentration if used when driving.
Have the risks at every location been assessed?
Contractors may be working at hundreds of different farms each year including new locations staff haven’t previously visited so assessing risks on a site-by-site basis is extremely important. When employing a new contractor, expect the company to undertake a dynamic risk assessment before starting work. Factors to be considered include slopes, ridges and uneven ground, overhead power lines, hidden features such as concrete well-covers or manholes and weather conditions. Each person involved in the contract work on your farm has a responsibility under health and safety law to ensure operations are carried out safely. The driver, contractor and farmer should all be involved when assessing risks. It is good practice for a contractor to provide customers with copies of their insurance certificate, risk assessments applicable to the job in hand and relevant training certificates to demonstrate competence. Good operators will share these before being asked.
Are there adequate maintenance facilities?
Many contractors have a well-equipped workshop, carrying out maintenance whenever they can because when machinery is out of action, they are not making money. A schedule of planned maintenance such as servicing engines, greasing bearings and tensioning belts and chains are often done consistently. The same is not so true for guarding, especially power take-off (PTO) guards. It’s right to be concerned if a contractor arrives with a shiny new tractor and baler but a badly damaged PTO guard with safety chains missing. It raises questions about priorities – having a new tractor or keeping staff safe. It is a legal requirement that an employer provides workers with safe plant and systems of work, and this includes the guarding and safety features of all plant.
What induction programme is available to new workers?
A full induction programme for new staff is essential and should be documented and signed by the new employee and available for inspection. Induction programmes can include a review of policies, risk assessments and safe work systems, emergency procedures, first aid arrangements, welfare facilities and identify training needs. It is also important contractors monitor new staff to ensure they follow safe working practices.
4R Reassurance has been working with a forward-thinking large agricultural contractor in the South West to develop a safety-first approach. These are the areas covered by the 4R Reassurance expert team to keep his staff and customers safe.
|Safety Area||4R Reassurance actions|
|Staff||· Created staff training records and a matrix with the contractor to identify training needs
· Delivered health and safety training to staff on site
· Involved staff in the risk assessment process
|Roads||· Provided training on hazards associated with driving on public roads
· Implemented driving licence checks
· Advised staff on how to carry out safety checks before using equipment and reporting defects
|Mobile Phones||· Provided training on the safe use of mobile phones
· Recommended contractor provides hands-free equipment where required
|Risk Assessments||· Produced a risk assessment book combined with a staff job/timesheet to ensure a risk assessment is completed before starting each job|
|Maintenance||· Checked existing maintenance schedule
· Developed maintenance and breakdown sheets for use in the workshop
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