HL Deb 02 July 1962 vol 241 cc1094-100

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, the purpose of these Regulations, like that of most of their predecessors under the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act, 1956, is to safeguard the worker. They will apply to Great Britain. We have already brought in Regulations to cover farm risks arising from unsafe buildings and ladders, power take-offs, circular saws, threshers and stationary balers and stationary machinery generally. Now we come to mobile field machines, such as tractors, combines, harvesters, trailers and so on and powered handtools. These machines have brought immense benefits to farming but they have also brought new hazards. These Regulations are designed to protect farmworkers and forestry workers so far as possible against the risk of injury from the use of such field machines.

To go very briefly through the Regulations, guards must be provided for components such as shafting, pulleys, flywheels or belts which might cause injury. In addition, specific requirements are laid down for the guarding of other dangerous parts of power-driven field machines of a particular kind. Your Lordships may remember that when we discussed the Regulations on circular saws, two or three years ago, noble Lords expressed the view that other types of powered saws were also dangerous and should be regulated. The Field Machinery Regulations which we are introducing now cover chain saws, used very largely by forestry workers, and include a requirement that they should be guarded. Other requirements concern stopping devices, differential locks, valves and cocks, drawbar jacks, standing platforms, seats and footrests, mounting steps and handholds and towing devices. Sharply pointed hooks and spikes must not be fitted to field machines. This follows a similar provision in the Threshers and Balers Regulations. Noble Lords will remember that when these Regulations were being debated, I pointed out that the requirement was to outlaw the razor-sharp hooks and spikes which used to be fitted to that kind of agricultural machine.

Obligations are imposed on both employers and workers. There are obligations upon the workers, of course, under other safety Regulations. The Regulations provide, for instance, that workers must not remove guards, except as may be necessary for cleaning and maintenance, and must report any damage. There is also, for example, a prohibition against riding on drawbars or getting on or off moving machines while towing. Many people have been killed or seriously injured in this way. For the first time in safety Regulations, responsibilities have been laid on manufacturers and dealers, in addition to the responsibilities placed on farmers and workers. The Regulations prohibit the sale of new field machines for use in agriculture unless they comply with the safety requirements. I am sure this is necessary, because safety is as much a matter of good design as of fitting guards to try to rectify poor design, and we do need to ensure that new machines are as safe as possible from the start. I am pleased to say that manufacturers are already doing a great deal to this end.

The Regulations cover a wide variety of machines and, therefore, contain a good deal of detail. We have endeavoured to approach the problem in a realistic and practical way, and to avoid making any requirements which are not necessary for the safety of workers. All interested organisations have been fully consulted in the framing of the Regulations, and we are indebted to them for the valuable contribution they have made. It has not been possible to agree on all points, although a very wide measure of agreement has been obtained.

As to the timing, certain requirements which do not require additional equipment, such as those relating to towing devices, maintenance, and prohibition of riding on drawbars, will come into operation three months after the Regulations are made. But time must be allowed for the main requirements of the Regulations to take effect. Manufacturers will need time for work on the designing, testing and production of complying machines, so that for new machines the main requirements will operate from July 1, 1964. Field machines now in use will need to be adapted and fitted with guards and other safety devices. Large numbers of machines will be involved, and this will make heavy remands on local workshops, where much of the work can be done, and on the suppliers of regulation guards. Clearly, the work cannot all be done at once and the Regulations allow it to be spread over a period of about five and a half years.

Machines are put in five classes each with its own operative date. Thus machines such as drills, loaders, elevators and rotary cultivators must comply by the middle of 1964, binders, pick-up balers and some others by January 1, 1965, tractors a year later and so on until all are covered by January 1, 1968. These are the statutory requirements, but I am sure that farmers will wish to ensure that their machines comply with the safety standards laid down as soon as possible and will not leave it to the last minute to have the necessary guards fitted. The Agricultural Departments will use all available means to inform people of their responsibilities under these new Regulations. Publicity will include leaflets explaining the detailed requirements, and more general announcements, as reminders, will be broadcast and published in the Press. The Departments' safety inspectors will always be ready to advise farmers, manufacturers and dealers. My Lords, I beg to move that the Agriculture (Field Machinery) Regulations, 1962, be approved.

Moved, That the Agriculture (Field Machinery) Regulations, 1962, be approved.—(Earl Waldegrave.)


My Lords, I am quite sure your Lord-ships will now clearly understand what these safety Regulations mean—that is, assuming that you are much quicker in grasping possibilities than I am. However, I am sure the noble Earl has done his best, and perhaps as good as anybody else could do, to explain in a few words some of the most complex Regulations that can ever have been brought into your Lordships' House. I understand that the maximum measure of agreement has been reached by all those who are responsible for carrying out the Regulations. As the noble Earl said, nobody was entirely satisfied with what had been achieved after these four or five years' discussions, but everybody seems to recognise that the Regulations go about as far as they possibly can.

Apart from the fact that the Advisory Service, or members of the engineering world, will always be happy to help the farmer or farm worker to get some sort of elementary grasp of what these Regulations really mean, I would defy anybody to say that an ordinary elementary education would enable an individual to learn and understand in twelve months what these Regulations mean. I should like to ask the noble Earl what further steps will be taken to acquaint the farmer and the farm worker with the do's and don'ts about these Regulations. I can envisage both farmer, well educated, and farm worker, well educated or less well educated, trying to get a grasp of his responsibilities but failing lamentably because their command of the English language and legal language, is such that they are unable to understand what the Regulations are all about. Perhaps the noble Earl will tell us what special arrangements for transmitting information to farmer and farm worker will be employed, so that there will be few or no accidents through want of knowledge.

The noble Earl mentioned the timetable. While the maximum measure of agreement was achieved by those interested, there was, I believe, some little dispute about the timetable. Perhaps your Lordships appreciated that when you heard the noble Earl say that one of the final provisions of these Regulations will become operative only in 1968. No doubt with engineering other problems are involved, and I can understand that perhaps a long time will be necessary for the full weight of the Regulations to come into force. But I hope that, so far as the Ministry exercise any influence on the commencement of this, that or the other part of these Regulations, they will not stretch them out too far. The year 1968 is six years hence, more or less; it is a long time, but it may not be too long. I hope that the Department, at all events, will see to it that no time is wasted in giving the farmer and the farm worker the advantages of these Regulations, such as they may be.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, I should like to endorse what my noble friend has said about the complexity of these Regulations. This Order is very comprehensive, and I wish to back my noble friend in the suggestion that full particulars, in a fairly easily understood form, should be given both to the farmers and the farm workers. I was glad to hear the noble Earl say that this would be done, because it is most important that these Regulations should be understood.

There is one point I wish to make, in which I would endorse what the noble Earl has said; it is on the question of standing on the drawbars of the tractors. I think it is important that farmers and farm workers should be notified that in future this will be an offence. It is a dangerous practice: it is one that is carried out on nearly every farm, and no doubt many accidents have happened by reason of the fact that somebody has been standing behind the driver of the tractor and the lorry.

I am informed that last year there were 150 deaths in the agricultural industry through accidents. That is a serious position, because it probably affects no fewer than 500 people in their bereavement and distress. Whatever we can do to limit these accidents should be done. Perhaps the noble Earl, in his reply, will give us not only the number of deaths in the industry last year, but the number of other casualties. I am rather surprise, reading the Landworker month by month, at the number of accident claims which the National Union of Agricultural Workers have to settle: they seem to run into hundreds per month. If that is so, then the number of accidents in farming must be very high. It is understood that inspectors who will be appointed will be able to assist in regard to fixed machinery. But how can these inspectors deal with the question of wrongly standing on the drawbars of the tractors? It seems to me essential, as I said earlier, that the fullest information should be given to the members of the industry that in future this will not be allowed.

In general, we on this side of the House welcome this Order. I would point out to your Lordships that on two occasions quite recently it has been our privilege on this side to support the bringing into operation of agricultural schemes and Orders which have been fully explained to us. This shows that when matters are fully explained, and openly dealt with, noble Lords on this side of the House are very reasonable, amiable and anxious that the Orders should be passed.


My Lords, I am only too delighted to endorse that Members on the other side of the House are very reasonable and amiable; and I am glad that your Lordships as a whole support these Regulations. Some of the Regulations are complex, because there have to be legal definitions. But I think that we can overdo the fears of complexity. Let us take the Regulation dealing with drawbars. I honestly think that someone of almost any standard of education could understand the excellent language there, which I am sure would have been approved by Sir Ernest Gowers. In Part III of Schedule 1, Article 16 (1) says: A worker shall not ride on the drawbar or other linkage of a field machine, or of any machine towed or propelled by a field machine, while the field machine is engaged in towing or propelling. I do not think that is very difficult.


A very partial selection.


Many of the Regulations are really quite simple. But I agree that it is important that we should use every endeavour to make these Regulations understood by the people who must abide by them. We propose to do this. The B.B.C. are co-operating in their farm broadcasts. We are going to use leaflets and lectures, and the National Agricultural Advisory Service will bring this subject to discussion groups. Both the workers' union and the farmers' unions are going to co-operate. We shall issue posters, wall cards and so on. I think we have covered the whole field. I hope we shall be able to get both the simple and the difficult requirements across. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, that no time will be wasted. I should like again to stress this point. The Regulations may not require a farmer or a worker to do something until later when it is possible to require everybody to comply because there will have been time to modify machines. But I hope that farmers and workers who can make modifications to their machines, and who can exercise the care that will be statutorily enforced later, will do so as soon as they can, and not wait for the letter of the law to compel them to do it.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked what the number of accidents were. The fatal accidents in agriculture, as he said, were 165 in 1961. That is a rise; there were 125 in 1960. There is usually no great variation in the annual figures, and last year's increase was disappointing. I do not really know to what it could be attributed. If there are any other details and statistics that I have not actually in my head now, perhaps I could speak to the noble Lord afterwards.


My Lords, could the noble Earl deal with accidents other than fatal accidents? Has he the figures there?


The numbers of absences from work due to non-fatal accidents and industrial diseases of agricultural workers—that is the statistical way we can get at it—in Great Britain notified to the Agricultural Departments were 13,925 in 1959, 14,587 in 1960 and 13,260 in 1961. I hope that with those answers your Lordships will approve these Regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.