HC Deb 04 July 1960 vol 626 cc168-82

9.59 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I beg to move, That the Agriculture (Threshers and Balers) Regulations, 1960, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd June, be approved. These Regulations, which deal with the guarding and safe operation of threshers and balers designed or permanently converted for stationary use only, follow the general principles adopted in the regulations for stationary machinery which were made last July. The House will remember that I said then that stationary threshers, hullers, balers and trussers needed special attention and would be the subject of a separate set of regulations.

As in the case of stationary machinery generally, components such as shafting, pulleys, belts and flywheels will have to have guards of adequate strength unless, in the case of threshers and balers permanently fixed in one position, these components are safely situated out of the way of workers. Means must be provided of quickly stopping threshers and balers, and there must be adequate light. Machines, guards and belts must be properly maintained.

There are specific provisions to protect workers against the particular risks arising out of the use of threshers and balers. Drum feeding mouths must be specially guarded to prevent serious accidents which have been caused by workers stepping or falling into the drum feeding mouth and badly injuring themselves on the high speed drum. No worker may stand on a platform which slopes down directly into the drum feeding mouth when the drum is rotating, and no worker under 18 may feed produce into the drum feeding mouth.

The decks of threshers from which workers run the risk of falling more than five feet must have guard rails. Pointed hooks and spikes must not be used for the attachment of sacks or bags to threshers. The use of sharply pointed hooks has caused many serious hand injuries. In administering this provision we shall regard hooks and spikes as being satisfactory if they are no sharper than a match head. That will avoid injuries, while preserving the usefulness of the hooks. I would draw the attention of the House to that point; it is an important one.

Balers and trusses must be fitted with guards to protect workers from injuring themselves on the ram or discharge arms. To prevent a particularly dangerous practice, no worker may be on top of a baler when it is being Operated.

Employers are responsible for seeing chat these provisions are observed, and will be allowed twelve months to fit the necessary guards. As it is the custom for some farmers to borrow workers to help with the threshing, or to have it done by agricultural contractors, it is important that the industry should be quite clear on whom responsibility rests. Where the threshing or baling is earned out in a machine belonging to an agricultural contractor, the contractor will be deemed to be the employer for the purposes of the regulations and, therefore, responsible for seeing that they are observed. In all other cases the occupier of the farm on which the threshing is taking place will be responsible.

These are the principal features of the Regulations. They will apply to Great Britain. When they come into operation on 1st August, 1961, the Threshing Machines Act, 1878, will no longer be required. The repeal of this Act, which does not extend to Scotland, will take effect on the same day by virtue of an order to be made by my right hon. Friend under the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act, 1956.

Interested organisations have been consulted on the draft Regulations, and a broad measure of agreement has been reached. We shall, as with earlier Regulations, use all available means to inform people concerned of their responsibilities; publicity will include leaflets explaining the detailed requirements and more general announcements as reminders.

As I said before, they will complete the Regulations for stationary machines. Consultations are in progress on proposals for regulations covering the other broad group of machines—those which operate while travelling over the ground.

I feel sure that as a sensible and necessary addition to the existing safety measures these Regulations will commend themselves to the House.

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has explained in detail the purpose of the Regulations, and has indicated that it is the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State to bring the Regulations to the House. Powers were conferred upon the Minister and the Secretary of State by subsections (1) to (5) of Section 1 of the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act, 1956. The Opposition accepted the purpose of that Act, and we do not oppose these Regulations. We know that there has been considerable consultation with all sections of the industry about how the Regulations should be applied and that there has been common agreement. There is no division between the two sides of the House tonight. We agree that these Regulations mark a step forward and I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has announced that consultations are going on with a view to the introduction of further safety regulations covering other classes of agricultural machinery.

The purpose of the Act and the Regulations is to protect the worker in agriculture against risks of bodily injury, or injury to health, arising out of the use of machinery, plant, equipment or appliances. That was the principle of the 1956 Act and it dominates the Regulations.

Here we are dealing specifically with dangerous machinery, threshers and balers. We agree with the Regulations in principle, but I have some detailed criticisms, which I hope will be constructive and which are made only in a desire to improve administration. If I put some detailed points here and there, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will recognise that I am not criticising the main policy of the Government in this respect, or the underlying principles of the administration of the Regulations.

The Regulations should take the safety programme on farms a step forward and there is common agreement about that. We all agree that there must be safety on our farms. Without going into too much detail, The Land Worker of April, 1960—and the source of the figures is the Ministry of Agriculture—in an article entitled "Death on the Farms" said: There were 151 fatal accidents on the farms of Great Britain in 1959, and of that total 23 of the victims were children under 15 years of age. Analysing the Ministry's figures, the article went on: The breakdown in the figures for fatal accidents is interesting. By far the largest single group involves the use of machinery—91 of the total fell in this group and 14 of them were children. It may well be that the Regulations will not cover all the accidents in that broad category, but the figures show that still more safety on farms is needed.

Inevitably, that need will grow with the growth of mechanisation. Britain has one of the most highly-mechanised agricultural industries in the world. We are all for that. It leads to increased efficiency and the agricultural engineering industry makes a valuable contribution to the nation's economy, affecting home agriculture and exports. We are all anxious to have more mechanisation, but we must recognise that with the growth of mechanisation there must be a growth of safety regulations.

I stress what Sir George Dowty said at the opening of the Power Farming Conference in February of this year when he forecast a future when machinery would be far more important than it is today and when the farmer and farm worker would be men with considerable engineering skill.

In discussing the Regulations, I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind that there are two important aspects of safety on the farm. One is training and the other is the use of machines. Training and the use of machines are important when we are dealing with safety regulations and those regulations will be administered effectively only on the farm, and the men who use the machinery must be trained to do so.

The Farmer and Stock-Breeder on 8th December said: Mr. E. M. Owens, chairman of the N.F.U. Technical and Education Committee, told the Truro F.U. he thought it probable that the British farmer knew less about his machinery than almost any other farmer in the world, and to put it right with the rising generation was the job of the training and technical colleges. I do not know that I agree with that, but it indicates that there is a section of farming opinion which is pleading for better training and use of machinery and stressing how important that is to safety.

The farmer must have more knowledge of his machines and it must be given through organisations like the N.F.U., through its Machinery Committee, and the Agricultural Workers' Union, which has already publicised regulations of this kind and the need for proper legislation. Farmers and farmworkers have campaigned for improved safety arrangements. Those concerned with machines directly, like the Institute of Agricultural Engineers, have had conferences and campaigns for more safety through the better use of machinery on the farm. Again I stress that.

We could tonight, had we wanted, have gone into a long debate about the importance of technical instruction in the use of machinery and of the implementation of the De La Warr Report covering technical education. I would only say that the maintenance and care of machinery is therefore important, and I am glad to see that in the Regulations there is, over and over again, a stress on maintenance.

In Part II, paragraph 7, of the Schedule to the Regulations there is a special section dealing with construction and maintenance. Throughout the Government's draft Statutory Instrument we see that maintenance comes up. The maintenance and care of machinery is a very vital factor, and we hope that the farming community will always bear in mind that machinery must be looked after. Too often we see on our farms machinery left out in the open. I am sure that is a bad practice. We therefore hope that the issue of Regulations of this kind will encourage farmers and farm workers to 100 per cent. maximum efficiency in the care and maintenance of machinery.

I come to one or two detailed points in the Regulations and perhaps a little criticism. In paragraph 8 (2) of Part II of the Schedule, as the Minister has said, it is a duty to provide guards for shafting, pulley, flywheel,… belt or chain. These need not apply if situated a distaace of 6 ft. 6 in. from …every floor, platform, staircase, fixed ladder or other place to which a worker has access.… I know that this is the practice in factories and that regulations for safety in factories deal with a similar point. In law, there is a principle commonly known as "safe by position", and it is argued that guards are not necessary, and tint workers not normally in danger of coming into contact with unguarded parts of moving machinery above their heads need not be protected. In other words the Regulations need not cater for such machinery in factories, and, as is the case with these Regulations, for circumstances of that kind.

I know that this point has been raised by the National Union of Agricultural Workers and that it has made representations to the Minister, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. A. V. Hilton) will give the union's point of view tonight. We still have to cater for forgetful and inexperienced workers who sometimes climb up a ladder to make adjustments and to lubricate dangerous parts of a machine while it is still rotating. They may be oblivious to the dangers. However, their actions may have been to improve the working of the machinery and, they have at least been trying to remedy some defect. Their actions can have disastrous results.

That is why I hoped that the regulations would have catered for human failings. I know that the Minister has gone part of the way and that the Regulations allude to balers and threshers and that there is the wording …permanently fixed in one position… There is also an escape proviso which says that guards are not necessary if a worker is not within a distance of 6 ft. 6 ins. and that it does not apply if machines are moveable.

I agree that the Minister has gone a long way, but there is still a point to consider even with permanently fixed machines. We must envisage a worker lubricating the machinery, or making some adjustments or replacements, and, in consequence, coming nearer than 6 ft. 6 ins. to the moving parts. That means that he will be too close for safety. I would have liked to see a provision that dangerous parts, wherever situated, of threshers and balers should be fitted with guards. It would not have cost the manufacturers or the farmers much money. I hope that the Minister will give further consideration to this point.

I turn now to the requirements for stopping machinery quickly—in other words, emergency stopping devices. The Regulations require that such a device shall be affixed to and operated from either the prime mover—for instance, the tractor—or the thresher or baler itself. In this connection, I wish to raise a point affecting the economy of labour. The tractor driver may be engaged in other operations, in which case if anything happens to one of the team on the thresher nobody is readily available to apply the safety stopper devices on the tractor. I do not think that there should be any unreasonable economy of labour at the expense of the workers' safety. I realise that this point may not be able to be covered by a Regulation, and may have to be dealt with by propaganda and the creation of a public opinion in connection with the use of machinery and implements on farms.

The Regulations are good, and we approve of them. We congratulate the Minister for introducing them. They represent a step forward towards bringing about better safety conditions on farms. The demand for safety measures will continue with the development of machinery in the farming industry. In matters of safety involved in dealing with complicated machinery which can cause bodily injury, we must err on the side of caution.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) mentioned the question of a worker being more than 6 ft. 6 ins. from moving parts of machinery. If he knows very much about stationary threshing machines or balers he will realise that it is impossible always to remain outside that distance. What we must try to ensure is that these safety Regulations, which I warmly welcome, are satisfactory without being too complicated.

Mr. Peart

I was quoting the distance of 6 ft. 6 ins. only because it is quoted in the Regulations. The hon. Member will see that it is there.

Mr. Prior

I have read the Regulations carefully and I cannot see any mention of the distance of 6 ft. 6 ins. In any case, it is impossible to keep 6 ft. 6 ins. away from all working parts of a threshing machine, and the hon. Member ought to know that.

If we make these Regulations too complicated they will be ignored and not put to their proper use. If we provide that shields must be placed round everything, a man maintaining these machines may take off one of the guards and put it in the dirt, and forget to put it back again. The result will be worse than not having the Regulations at all.

The best effect of the Regulations will be felt in the protection now afforded to the power tackle from the tractor to the implement. There is an example of a Regulation which has been of great benefit.

I am worried about some of these Regulations, including the one about a railing round the top of the drum. In any case, I think that we are making these Regulations too late, because I expect that the stationary drum will be out of use altogether in a few years; but better late than never. It will be difficult properly to implement the Regulation referring to a chain or a rope or guardrail not more than 4 ft. above the deck. I do not consider it a particularly valuable Regulation. We shall still have one side unguarded where the operator feeds into the drum and I think that the railing or raised platform already round the drum would be sufficient.

The hon. Member for Workington referred to the number of children last year and a figure of 14 has been quoted. This is a difficult matter for the farmers, who find it very hard to keep children away from these instruments. A farmer who does so is regarded as a spoilsport by the children and the farm workers encourage children to sit on the tractor and the balers and on the stationary drum.

I suggest that in the rural areas school teachers could profitably spend a little time trying to teach children why they are not allowed to go near the farm machinery. Most farmers are extremely fond of children and like to have them round the farm. There is widespread abuse of the present Regulations relating to children, because it has been so difficult for farmers to comply with them. I hope that education authorities will take note of what has been said.

I welcome the Regulations, but in future we must always be guided by what is practicable as well as what would be 100 per cent, desirable. The manufacturers could do most to help the farmers in this difficulty. If manufacturers took note of the Regulations and tried to design machinery so that it was safe, and that the working parts were well away from the people who have to operate the machines as well as from dust and dirt, we should have safer and better agricultural implements.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, South-West)

I welcome the Regulations. This is a matter on which hon. Members on both sides of the House are agreed and it is also something upon which there is agreement among farmers and farm workers. We welcome anything which will make conditions safer for those who work on the land and which will help to reduce the risk of accidents. In recent years the number of accidents has caused great concern, but it has been reduced as a result of previous Regulations.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) is bothered about these Regulations. Personally, I welcome any Regulation which is likely to make conditions safer on the farm. The hon. Member mentioned in particular the difficulty of keeping children off tractors and farm implements. I quite agree that that is a problem, but the Regulations against children going on such machinery have, I think, been instrumental in greatly reducing the number of accidents. The timing of these Regulations is appropriate. They are to deal with threshers and balers. Already we have seen the balers out in the fields and in a few weeks' time the threshers will be busy.

I know that these Regulations will not apply to implements used in gathering the coming harvest, but they should be a reminder to farmers and workers that this will be the last time they will be able to take risks which have previously been taken in the use of balers and threshers. I hope that when it is known that the Regulations are to apply from 1st August, 1961, many farmers will not wait until then but that they would put their provisions into operation.

There is no doubt that during the hay harvest and the corn harvest there are likely to be many terrible accidents. I have seen many accidents in the past. I have seen a man come out of a drum minus the whole of his leg. I have seen one with the whole of the flesh stripped off his arm when he had become entangled in a baler. These accidents have happened to workers when machines have not been adequately guarded. Therefore, I hope that many farmers will operate the provisions of these Regulations straight away.

I want to emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) about catering for the careless and forgetful worker who sometimes is so anxious to get on with the job that he takes undue risks with moving parts of machinery. Many accidents happen on the farm because workers are forgetful that parts of the machinery are moving and they take risks when oiling, greasing or adjusting them. Therefore, I hope the Minister will take note of what was said by my hon. Friend.

I welcome these Regulations and sincerely hope that they will have the desired result of reducing the rate of accidents on the farm. There is a responsibility on both the farmer and the worker and not only the farmer. I am sure that if they observe these Regulations when they become operative they will have the desired effect of reducing the alarming rate of farm accidents which has been so serious in the past.

10.30 p.m.

Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)

I welcome these Regulations. I, too, have seen ugly accidents when working with balers or threshing machines. These accidents are bound to happen, especially in an industry which has been mechanised so rapidly and so recently. Until very recently agriculture has been largely manual, but since the war it has become rapidly mechanical. It is difficult for people who have not been used to mechanical work to change over and to realise the risks involved in quick-moving machinery.

At the same time, I hope that the Minister will not make the Regulations too difficult, because there is a certain risk in all types of machinery, and I believe that if he encourages the better maintenance of agricultural machinery, which is most important, especially among workers who are only recently becoming mechanically minded, that will solve many of the difficulties.

Reference has been made to the risk to children from agricultural machinery. We all know that in the old days it was the delight of all of us, as children, to drive an empty cart back to the hayfield. Today, it is the delight of many farm children to drive a tractor, with an empty cart, back to the hayfield, or to drive a tractor on while others are filling the cart with hay, possibly when there is threatening weather and everybody is trying to get the crop in quickly.

It seems to me that there is a great risk to small children, who cannot reach the pedals of a tractor, and I hope that agriculture will be very stern with children. Although we want to encourage children in agriculture, I hope that they will not be allowed to take an active part with moving machinery and tractors, although I know how difficult it is to refuse them.

It seems to me that what is wanted more is an encouragement of common sense and an appreciation of the mechanism of moving machinery. I hope that the Ministry will try to encourage that rather than to establish rigid Regulations which perhaps will call for more manpower and greater expense. If they demand rigid regulations and greater expense in manpower through the Regulations, I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will remember this at the next spring Price Review.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Godber

I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for the very helpful and sympathetic remarks which they have made about these Regulations. As hon. Members have said, this is an all-party matter, and I am glad that it is. I will reply briefly to one or two points made.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) reminded us, rightly, of the number of deaths which still take place each year on our farms. Other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton), from his personal experience, have spoken of some of the serious accidents which take place. It is as well that we should be reminded of this. At the same time, we can take some pride in the results which are beginning to show from Orders already introduced. I was glad to hear the kindly references, in particular, to the Regulations referring to power take-off, which I think are proving very valuable in avoiding a number of serious accidents.

The hon. Member for Workington referred to paragraph 8 (2) of the Schedule which states: …where a thresher or baler is permanently fixed in one position, a component, and any part of a component, shall be deemed to be so situated as aforesaid if it is more than 6 feet 6 inches from every floor, platform, staircase, fixed ladder or other place… The important point here is that this is restricted to threshers or balers which are permanently fixed in one position—in other words, which can be considered as comparable with the stationary machinery with which we have dealt in previous Regulations. On that occasion we decided upon 6 ft. 6 ins. as being the operative height which we thought was safe. As the hon. Member pointed out, that is above the heads of the average worker, and we thought it was reasonable. Of course, the vast majority of these machines which are covered by these Regulations would not be covered by this particular exception, because they are moveable and are taken from farm to farm, so that the bulk of them have to be guarded.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) pointed out one or two matters with regard to the use of drums. He said that in a year or two they would be out of use. I suppose that in the majority of cases they will be, but there are still a large number in use at present and we thought it would be wrong to disregard these machines when we are trying to cover the generality of farm machinery. He referred to the usefulness of a guard rail 3 ft. to 4 ft. above the deck. We gave this matter considerable thought. With machinery of this height, we felt that any guard rail to be effective must be at this level and we thought it wrong not to provide a guard rail at all. The sort of thing that we have in mind is not expensive or cumbersome or difficult to fix. The contractors and those owning these machines would not have undue difficulty. I was particularly concerned to satisfy myself on this point, having worked on a drum many times and knowing something of the difficulties. I would not have agreed to this provision if I had not been sure that it was practical.

The question relating to the use of machinery by children is a valid theme which was taken up on both sides of the House, and I am sure that it is right that we should remind farmers all the time of the dangers that children run if they are allowed to get on the machines. We have tried to set standards in our previous Regulations, and I must appeal to the whole farming community in the interests of the children themselves, to be a little harsh if necessary in order to safeguard the children, although I know how difficult this can be on occasions.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West expressed the hope that farmers would straightaway start to fit some of these guards and not wait till next year. I am sure we all agree entirely. We do not put next year as a target date. We put it as a final date. Our hope is that farmers and contractors will wish to start fitting these guards as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) gave a very sound warning about not making regulations too difficult. I assure him that it is our intention to keep them as simple and practicable as possible, and that is in some degree the reason for a certain amount of delay in bringing these Regulations forward. We have been determined not to put an unreasonable burden on the farming community but at the same time we have been determined to try to achieve safety, although, with the wide variety of machinery in existence, it is proving difficult and extremely complicated in some cases. These Regulations are a case in point, and those relating to moving machinery in use in the fields will pose other problems for us.

We have to try to marry up the needs of safety with the practical needs of the farm, and I assure the House that we shall keep those practical needs of the farmer and his workers constantly in mind in trying to achieve a fair and just solution.

I am grateful to the House for the reception it has given to these Regulations, and I hope they will be accepted.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Agriculture (Threshers and Balers) Regulations, 1960, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd June, be approved.