HL Deb 03 March 1959 vol 214 cc652-9

2.47 p.m.

THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE) rose to move, That the Draft Agriculture (Circular Saws) Regulations, 1958, be approved. The noble Earl said: My Lords, as both the sets of regulations on the Order Paper arise out of the same Act, it may be convenient to your Lordships if I discuss them together rather than to have two separate Motions. We already have regulations for avoidance of accidents to children and about the provision of first-aid boxes, and there are regulations for power takeoffs and ladders. Now we come to circular saws which can be very dangerous machines, and the regulations deal with the chief causes of trouble. They prescribe generally for sound construction, proper maintenance and adequate lighting. There are specific requirements about unsafe blades; top and bottom guards must be provided and, for the fixed bench type, a riving knife is also required to prevent the cut wood binding on the saw at the far side of the blade.

Provision of proper equipment is the concern of the employer but the employee has certain more limited responsibilities such as making use of safety devices and reporting obvious specified defects such as missing teeth in the blade. No one under 16 may work at a circular saw, those between 16 and under 18 must be supervised, and any inexperienced workers must be instructed. Most of the regulations come into force in 12 months' time, although only 6 months is allowed for some requirements such as restrictions on highly dangerous defective blades and certain operating conditions. Consultation with the organisations concerned has been both wide and helpful.

There is one point on the Circular Saws Order to which I should like to refer. Some noble Lords may ask why we have not covered all types of saw. The reason is that we are out to tackle the most common and serious risks first. Circular saws, by far the most extensively used in agriculture, and, of course, in forestry, fall by common consent into this group. It was in full agreement with the main agricultural interests that we gave them high priority in our programme of safety regulations; and though we have had the fullest consultations with interested organisations, we have not been asked to include other types of saw in these present regulations. Other specialised types, such as the band saw, are more appropriate to the timber trade. In brief, our policy is to protect the greatest number in the shortest time (we have in preparation other regulations designed to cover a wide field of risks) and to leave until a later stage the less common causes of accidents.

May I now turn to the second set of regulations. Places used by agricultural workers during their employment are the subject of the second set before us to-day. Safety standards are laid down for floors (including catwalks), fixed ladders and stairs. Openings of various kinds in walls and floors, also grain pits, stokeholds and furnace pits, must be guarded if workers run the risk of falling more than 5 ft. through them or into them. Stairs must be properly constructed—for example, there must not be any missing steps or other obvious defects—and they must have adequate handrails. Where stairs are so steep as to be virtually fixed ladders, there must be a handhold at the top for people getting on or off. The workers' own share of responsibility in all this is limited to making use of safety equipment and reporting certain obvious defects such as broken handrails and guards.

These requirements are all essentially simple arid the installation of safeguards will not be costly. The regulations will not come into effect until April 1, 1961. We shall, of course, try to make sure that everyone concerned knows what is required of him. As with earlier regulations, an explanatory leaflet will be printed and given the widest possible distribution: we find this a very effective way of telling people just what they have to do. Other publicity channels, such as the Press, broadcasting and television will be used wherever possible to draw attention to the existence of these regulations and to the various dates of operation as they draw near. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Agriculture (Circular Saws) Regulations, 1958, be approved.—(Earl Waldegrave.)

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, that I have not had an opportunity, as I have been away, of telling him that I was going to ask this question. The question is in regard to saws that are used mostly for crosscutting firewood. In our sawmills a great many people have a subsidiary saw which is a circular saw. It is not used for the dangerous operation of cutting long planks, but is normally used for cutting up firewood. In the same way, there are large numbers of circular saws used on a bench which is pulled out by a tractor into the woods. That is of great value in forestry operations, and it would seem to me, so far as I have been able to understand these regulations, that the same intricate safeguards are not necessary for cross-cutting firewood saws used for that purpose. I wonder whether the noble Earl can tell me if they will be able to be excluded from these regulations?


My Lords, may I ask one question on this subject? Various obligations are placed upon both employer and worker, but the noble Earl made no mention of any penalty that might accrue to an employer where a worker, either at his bench or outside deliberately ignores the safety measures the employer has provided. It could operate the other way when perhaps an employer might not carry out the regulations to the full. What safeguard has the worker in that case?


My Lords, the first point is that these regulations will apply to circular saws of all sorts that are used by agricultural workers as defined in the regulations—that is to say, they apply to the circular saw taken out into the woods for cross-cutting logs. With regard to the penalties, I am not sure of the scale, but I think it is important to realise that all these regulations are, as it were, negative in their application—that is to say, they forbid an employer causing or permitting a worker to use any saw unless the regulations are complied with, and where an employer orders an employee to contravene these regulations he is acting in breach of them and can be proceeded against. An employee who deliberately does not follow out these regulations also is in breach of them. I hope that that meets the points the noble Lord raised.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his explanation as to why other types of power saws have not been included in the regulations. That is a point which was raised in the Special Orders Committee, and by his remarks he has anticipated a question I should have been disposed to put in that connection. I am not at all satisfied—and I think the House ought not to be satisfied—with the fact that the Order has been confined to circular saws, because we all know the fearful damage done to men in the operation of all kinds of mechanical or power saws. I see no reason whatever why the whole series of mechanical saws should not have been included in this particular Order. The noble Earl has said that it is proposed to review that phase of the matter at a later date, but that does not excuse the Government for not having included in this particular Order the whole of the power saws that are used in connection with agriculture.


My Lords, I fully appreciate the point the noble Lord opposite has made. I hope that he will not press it and delay the approval of this Order because he thinks more ought to be in it. I can only reiterate what I have said before, which is that these regulations are designed to protect agricultural workers and forestry workers. We had the fullest consultations with the workers' side in this matter, and they have not asked for band saws and other forms of mechanical fixed saws, which are far more prevalently used in the timber trade where they are covered by the provisions of the Factories Acts, to be included. It would have made these regulations a great deal more difficult if we had had to do that. We shall no doubt come to this, but there are many more things which we think are of greater urgency, such as the carrying of heavy weights. That is one we have on the stocks—we are getting ready to deal with the carrying of excessive weights—before we go into the really technical matters for which, at the moment, there is no demand from the workers' side. Before getting regulations to deal with saws which are not in common use among agricultural workers, we felt that it was right to go forward with these regulations to try to protect the workers against this very dangerous instrument which is well known to us all.


My Lords, may I ask two questions? First, is it not a fact that, in the modern development of the machine age of the farm, a great many machines are now being used on farms that were not so used a decade ago? Could the noble Earl tell me whether a farm which becomes almost self-contained in adapting itself for its plant and building extension, and that kind of thing, will come under the Factory and Workshops Acts dealing with these matters? There is no provision in this Order for them.


I do not think I could answer that question completely without notice. It is a matter of legal definition, and I believe that there is already a great deal of Case Law on this subject. But whether all such places would come under the Factories Acts I do not find easy to answer. I think that where there are fixed saws and fixed woodworking machinery in an estate, probably they do come under the Factories Acts. But I wish to re-emphasise that we are dealing here with regulations to protect farm workers, and we are trying to deal with the kind of thing the ordinary farm worker is commonly called upon to use, such as a circular saw. The farm worker cannot be said commonly to be called upon to use complex fixed woodworking machinery, such as bandsaws, which I think are always governed by the Factories Acts.


My Lords, while nobody wishes to delay the passing of this very necessary legislation, I hope that the noble Earl will keep in mind that the growth of the use of the bandsaw, or modifications of it, out doors is spreading very rapidly, and an adaptation of the factory type of bandsaw is now used for the felling of large trees in forests. To omit those most dangerous tools from regulations of this kind is rather unfortunate. Perhaps the noble Earl would look at the matter again, because I am sure that the House would willingly consider an addition to these regulations if he found it to be necessary.


My Lords, I will, of course, undertake to bring to the attention of my right honourable friend the points that have been raised. As I say, we are in process of bringing forward other regulations, and if there is a big demand for regulations in connection with other types of saw no doubt my right honourable friend will pay serious attention to it.


My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend Lord Kershaw for opening up this matter this afternoon. I am grateful for that last answer. We shall watch with great care what is the next step to be taken by the Ministry. I hope it will be soon. With regard to the administration of these regulations, have the Ministry made definite inquiries into convenient movable protectors which can be used with, say, a circular saw that can be attached to any tractor on the farm, in any position on the farm? Because if you can help the farmers, especially the smaller ones, with advice on this matter it will be a very good thing.


My Lords, I think can reassure the noble Viscount that these matters have been gone into most carefully. Very wide and full consultations have taken place, and I have a great mass of illustrated designs for these protective devices. I believe that the subject has been well covered.

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, may I say a few words about these regulations, because I am particularly interested in their passing. In a great measure I approve of them, because I am certain that they will be for the protection of the farm workers and also in the interests of farmers. The noble Earl said that he had had long consultations with the interests concerned, and I understand that that is so in regard to the National Union of Agricultural Workers. They approve of these regulations, although it is probably within the noble Lord's knowledge that they would have liked the regulations extended or improved in some directions. Both these regulations and the Safeguarding of Workplaces Regulations throw duties upon both the farmers and the farm workers, and I hope that there will be the closest possible co-operation between both parties.

These are very essential regulations. I should not perhaps be right if I said that they were measures of control in the farming industry, but at any rate they are measures which will be very helpful. I am glad that the regulations prohibit a young man under sixteen from using circular saws and other equipment of that sort, and I am glad also that the question of the repair of the buildings and ladders and holes in floors most particularly is to be tackled under the Circular Saws Regulations. In that connection, I would ask the Minister whether works of some importance and some cast to farmers in putting their buildings in order would come under the improvement grants scheme and whether it is possible for a grant to be made.

I understand that a number of inspectors, some sixty or seventy, have already been appointed to carry out the work of the Ministry, and I want to suggest to the Minister that these inspectors should be asked to carry out their work with the greatest kindliness and interest, and should see that the farmers and farm workers are well aware what is contained in the regulations. The Minister mentioned the question of publicity. I think it is essential that the greatest possible publicity should be given to these regulations. He also mentioned the question of the B.B.C. There are one or two programmes soon after the news at six o'clock on television which could well cover some of the items which are included in these regulations. If that were done they would receive the attention of a very vast audience indeed, and it might be helpful in seeing that the regulations are put into operation quite rightly and perfectly in order.


My Lords, I think I can quite briefly reply to those points. The National Union of Agricultural Workers was indeed consulted, as also were the National Union of General and Municipal Workers and other trade unions. With regard to improvement grants it will be possible, we feel, for works undertaken to comply with the Safeguarding of Workplaces Regulations to qualify under the Farm Improvement Scheme. On inspection: we have a large body of inspectors to deal with the matter: we have 73 Officers—the Chief Inspector, 2 Deputy Chief Inspectors, 8 Regional Safety Inspectors, 26 Field Officers (Grade 1), 36 Field Officers (Grade 2)—which is quite a large body of people to deal with this work. Finally—on publicity—I am quite sure that the B.B.C., and especially some of those programmes which we probably both have in mind, will take this matter up in their usual co-operative way.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether any contact has been had with the manufacturers of these saws with a view to their designing the most safe kind?


My Lords, the answer to that is, "Yes." I have a list of all the people who have been consulted, and the manufacturing interests have been consulted.


The noble Earl will agree that is the point of departure in matters of this kind.


Yes. But from the very nature of the instrument it has dangers.

On Question, Motion agreed to.