The government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is putting children’s lives at risk by scrapping guidance covering their safety on farms, warned Britain’s biggest union, Unite today (Thursday 27 June).
The warning follows the decision by the HSE to withdraw the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) on children in agriculture. The agricultural industry is one of the most dangerous in the UK and according to the HSE’s own figures there were 29 child fatalities between 1998 and 2011. During the 10 year period from 2001 to 2011 there was an average of 15 serious injuries to children each year.
ACOPs offer examples of good practice, but crucially they have specific legal status; 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.
As the only union in the UK representing farm workers, Unite has campaigned for decades for better child safety on farms. It argues that the welcome decline in child deaths in agriculture since the introduction of the ACOP in 1988 is due in part to the code’s existence and the added legal weight it gives to safety campaigns.
Tractor driver Steve Leniec, chair 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.”
Unite is challenging the rationale for scrapping the ACOP. The HSE argues that 62 per cent of respondents to a public consultation were in favour of the ACOP’s withdrawal. Unite notes that this is a similar proportion to those in favour of keeping the Agricultural Wages Board, yet the government ignored this public vote of confidence in the statutory pay body and formally abolished it on Tuesday 25 June.
For more information contact Bridget Henderson on 07761 702 085
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.