Farm Ireland
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Tuesday 21 August 2018

Warning as farmers helping each other out with work poses potential insurance liability

Neighbours lending a helping hand, especially with the hay and silage, is a longstanding tradition but comes with potential insurance liability risks
Neighbours lending a helping hand, especially with the hay and silage, is a longstanding tradition but comes with potential insurance liability risks

Theresa Murphy

Although the culture of helping out and trading labour between farmers is dying out in many parts of the country, there are times when a helping hand from family members or neighbours carries with it a greater burden for the farmer in terms of liability and insurance than most realise.

Most farm policies of insurance provide cover for public liability which would ordinarily cover visitors and potentially even trespassers on the lands.

However, if the 'visitor' onto the farm is providing labour to the farmer/land owner, they may well be considered an employee within the meaning of the insurance policy and the policy may not cover these people if they were to acquire an injury on the farm.

The important distinction is between an 'employee' and a 'visitor'.

If a person is carrying out work on the farm it is likely that they would be considered an employee rather than a visitor, even if they are not paid a wage/salary from the farm. If a person is considered an employee insurance cover for employer's liability is necessary to protect the farmer from potential claims in the case of incident/injury.

There are a number of factors that a farmer should bear in mind when having family/friends/neighbours carry out work or lend a hand on the farm.

Neighbours v Employees

In many cases, where the farm owner has an insurance policy in place to cover injuries to employees, a 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.

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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. If you are going to have friends/neighbours onto the farm to carry out work, you should look at the farmyard much like a workplace and consider the potential hazards that may exist.

Hiring Contractors

For those who choose to hire contractors, you will not have to worry about paying 'stamps' etc for contractors, however, you do have to consider factors like have you adequate insurance in place? The landowner is not normally responsible for dangers created by contractors due to the negligent or dangerous practices of the contractor employed. However, the landowner has to have taken all reasonable care in the circumstances. So what do you have to do to ensure that you have taken reasonable care?

The biggest issue arises for the landowner where he knows that the safety measures used by the contractor are not sufficient and/or dangerous.

You should ask around as to the competency of the contractors and observe their safety practices. You should also satisfy yourself that the drivers are over the legal age and are capable and careful. If you know the contractor is not capable of doing the work safely, then you should not hire them.

The issues and difficulties around adequate insurance for farmers are many and getting more complex. Reviewing your existing policy of insurance with a broker, disclosing the type of labour that you use on the farm will ensure that your policy meets the needs of your farming enterprise and most importantly protects you from potential claims being refused by your insurer.

This article is intended as a general guide only and you should seek professional advice in relation to your individual circumstances.

Theresa Murphy, Barrister at Law, based in Ardrahan, Co. Galway.

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