FARMERS across the region are risking severe financial repercussions, and even jail, because they are unaware of tougher penalties for health and safety breaches.

This is the message from agricultural expert William McCarter, of Wiltshire-based farm insurance specialist Lycetts.

He is worried there is a lack of knowledge among the farming community around The Health and Safety Sentencing Guidelines – particularly that fines are now based on turnover. 

Since February 2016, farming companies with a turnover of up to £2m who are found to have breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 can expect to pay fines of up to £450,000.

Larger businesses – with turnovers in excess of £50m – can face fines of up to £10m. Individuals found guilty of breaching the law can be handed unlimited fines or face a two-year prison sentence.

Judges could previously only impose custodial sentences in very specific circumstances, with fines in the lower courts limited to £20,000.

William said: “Health and safety breaches can have very serious, and even fatal, consequences and it is only right that they are dealt with appropriately.  Anything to improve health and safety in one of the most dangerous industries is certainly welcomed and supported. 

“But our feedback from farmers suggests many may not fully comprehend how business-critical a breach can be.  It is no longer a slap on a wrist and a fine amounting to hundreds of pounds.  Farmers who are lax with their health and safety procedures can expect to feel the full force of the law. 

“Now a number factors are taken into account when deciding punishment, including the level of culpability, the risk of causing harm and the level of potential harm, and the turnover of the offending business. 

“These guidelines are meant to act as a deterrent – and farmers should be aware that lapses in judgement, or a failure to take a proactive approach to safety, could cripple their operations.”

Agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury – 7.61 per 100,000 people – which is 18 times higher than the all industry rate. 

In 2016/17, 30 people were killed in agriculture.  In the South West, there has been seven deaths in the past year – the highest death rate in Britain.  

Although not all fatalities on farms are a result of health and safety breaches, these figures highlight how risky an industry it is.

A company in the South West was fined £115,000 after a worker fell from height at a farm.

The worker fell through a fragile skylight and broke his back. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to take adequate precautions to prevent workers falling from height. There was no edge protection, under-roof netting or boarding provided on site. The company instead relied on an ineffective use of harnesses.

It was found that unsafe working had been taking place for months before the accident and then continued for months afterwards.

A farmer in Wiltshire was ordered to pay £30,000 in court costs and received a suspended sentence after his cows trampled a man to death while he was on a public footpath. 

The farmer had failed to erect electrical fencing, despite his cattle having attacked passers-by on a number of occasions before the fatal incident. A HSE investigation found the farmer had not taken reasonable precautions to protect members of the public walking on footpaths through his fields from his cattle.

William said: “These cases – and the significantly higher fines – serve to illustrate how seriously courts are taking health and safety breaches on farms and highlight what farmers can expect if they cut corners or take shortcuts. 

“People’s lives are being put at risk on a daily basis on farms and an accident can have a devastating effect on the victim and their family.  Farmers need to prioritise compliance with the health and safety regulations and make sure they are doing all they can do to protect their workers – or face the consequences.”

For more advice on keeping farms safe, visit