Q I am expanding my herd from 55 cows to over 100 in the next few months.
The additional cows and workload mean I will have to employ extra help, but I am concerned by the additional responsibilities I will have in relation to personal injury claims.
I will also be increasing the amount of machinery that will be used so am worried about the risks of this and the potential for a claim against me as the farm owner.
Rights and responsibilities of the farm owner should be close to the mind of all farmers - not just those in expansion mode.
From personal injuries claims to employees' rights, farmers, like all business owners, need to act to ensure their exposure to claims is limited as much as possible.
Most farm owners take out insurance on their farms to protect against claims for personal injuries, as even minor injuries can result in claims of several thousand euro, along with legal and medical costs also running into thousands.
Health & Safety
Farmers often disregard themselves as employers in circumstances where they only hire labour on the farm for short periods or seasonal work.
Regardless of whether an employee is employed on a casual basis or on a permanent basis, there are regulations which apply to the protection of their safety, health and welfare that the employer must adhere to.
As farms are homes as well as workplaces, there are frequently children and young persons in this high-risk environment, either in the family or as visitors. This means children and young persons are at risk of death or injury on farms.
The Code of Practice for Children and Young Persons in Agriculture applies to on-farm work activities and their potential impact on children and young persons.
In many cases, where the farm owner has an insurance policy in place to cover injuries to employees, the Risk Assessment document will be sought by the insurer.
Farmers (although the vast majority are self-employed) must prepare a Safety Statement to comply with Section 20 of the 2005 Safety, health and welfare at work Act.
It must be based on an identification of the hazards and an assessment of the risks. This is to ensure their own safety and that of other persons.
However, farmers with three or fewer employees may instead follow the guidance in the Health and Safety Authority 2006 Code of Practice entitled 'Code of Practice for Preventing Injury and Occupational Ill Health in Agriculture' and complete a risk assessment within the framework set out in that Code of Practice.
The template risk assessment document is available online at hsa.ie.
In both cases, a risk assessment must be carried out relating to all minors involved in work activities assisting farmers in the farm setting.
The Safety Statement or the Agriculture Code of Practice process is essentially a document setting out how safety and health is to be managed on the farm.
It will include an appraisal of all the hazards on the farm, with an assessment of the risk of them causing injury.
Where the risk of injury is high, it identifies control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk.
Any employees using machinery or carrying out any activities that carry risk should be provided with proper instructions before they carry out any tasks.
Responsibility can fall back on the employer in the case of injury resulting from an employee not being adequately trained, for example, on spraying and other tasks involving heavy machinery.
Employers should also consider the environment and the safety of the environment that they are bringing employees into.
Tools and machinery lying around can result in injury and potential claims against the employer.
As well as taking proper precautions around training and safety, employers should also have employers liability insurance.
Employers liability insurance protects your business against your legal liability for injury, illness, disease or death of any employee.
You should always check the fine print as to who will be covered under this type of policy.
For example, if your spouse or adult child does not receive a salary from the farm but works on the farm, will they be covered?
Each insurer will have different terms and you should closely consider your policy to ensure it covers all the risks that you need it to.
Children on the farm
In general, it is recognised that minors are not mature enough to be involved in or exposed to the risks arising from hazardous farm work activities, including the operation of hazardous farm machinery, movement of livestock, loading and unloading of livestock, agitation and spreading of slurry or the mixing or use of chemicals, veterinary medicines and pesticides.
A risk assessment must be carried out before any minor starts work and should also cover minors such as family members and visitors, who may be affected by the work activities.
Children under the age of 14 should be prohibited from riding on agricultural machines including agricultural trailers unless the risk assessment shows it to be safe to do so.
Children between the ages of seven and 16 may ride on a tractor provided the tractor is fitted with a properly designed and fitted passenger seat (with seat belts) inside a safety cab or frame.
As is the case with employees, you should check your farm insurance policy for what exactly is covered from this perspective.
The risks are many and although it may seem that the paperwork and red tape associated with having an employee come onto the farm is huge, it should be considered that many of the practices around safety, health and welfare of the employee should also be taken on board by those farmers working alone on the farm.
In a sector which has one of the highest rates of workplace injury and death it is past time that greater levels of caution and safety are employed on farms.
This article is intended as a general guide only, you should seek professional advice in relation to your individual circumstances.
Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Ardrahan, Co Galway
While the majority of fatal farm accidents in the last number of weeks were caused by machinery, deaths caused by animals also feature. This is a reminder to farmers not only of the dangers but also the liabilities that are associated with stock.