Children’s lives are being put at greater risk on farms because of a government decision to water down safety laws, Unite claims.
The union believes that Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) decision to withdraw the Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) on children in agriculture means young people will be more exposed to injury through a lack of safety guidance for farmers and the loss of legal status.
Under current rules, if an employer being prosecuted for breach of health and safety laws is proved not to have followed an ACoP, it is more likely that the court will find them at fault, Unite says.
The HSE rejects the notion that children’s safety will be affected by scrapping the document but Unite has nonetheless vowed to challenge the rationale behind the decision.
Steve Leniec, chairman of Unite’s national committee for rural and agricultural workers, said: “We believe the ACoP should not only have been retained but updated and broadcast effectively to an industry that is in the grip of deregulation fever, worsening conditions for workers and their families.
“The scrapping of the ACoP and the legal underpinning it brings to the critical messages about children’s safety on farms is a signal to the industry from a cynical government.
“The HSE claims it will step up its communication with the industry. This is a feeble response, especially given relentless cuts in its funding.”
The HSE’s own figures show there were 29 child fatalities between 1998 and 2011 and between 2001 and 2011 there was an average of 15 serious injuries to children each year, Unite said.
In response to Unite’s comments, a HSE spokeswoman said: “Removing this publication does not mean a lowering of the safety standards expected in farming. The legal requirement to protect children and young people on farms remains firmly in place.
“As part of this change, HSE has revised its other farming publications to make them easier to read and understand. They provide clear practical advice and guidance on how to manage risks to young people. The majority of people consulted supported the removal of the ACoP.
“To help get safety messages out, we’re working with a wide range of organisations, including the NFU, to help ensure that the farming community gets the information it needs to keep its young people safe.”