Farmers in Dorset could face crippling fines or jail if they don’t take health and safety more seriously, an agricultural expert has warned.

William McCarter, of farm insurance specialist Lycetts, fears there is a lack of knowledge within the farming community around health and safety sentencing guidelines, particularly that fines are now based on turnover. 

Agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury at 7.61 per 100,000 people. In the south west there has been seven deaths in the past year – the highest death rate in Britain.

William said: “Health and safety breaches can have very serious, and even fatal, consequences and it is only right that they are dealt with appropriately.

“Anything to improve health and safety in one of the most dangerous industries is certainly welcomed and supported.

But our feedback from farmers suggests many may not fully comprehend how business-critical a breach can be. It is no longer a slap on a wrist and a fine amounting to hundreds of pounds. 

“Farmers who are lax with their health and safety procedures can expect to feel the full force of the law.

“Now a number factors are taken into account when deciding punishment, including the level of culpability, the risk of causing harm and the level of potential harm, and the turnover of the offending business.

“These guidelines are meant to act as a deterrent, and farmers should be aware that lapses in judgement, or a failure to take a proactive approach to safety, could cripple their operations.”

A company in the south west was fined £115,000 after a worker fell from height through a fragile skylight and broke his back at a farm.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company failed to take adequate precautions to prevent workers falling from height. 

There was no edge protection, under-roof netting or boarding provided on site. The company instead relied on an ineffective use of harnesses.

William said: “People’s lives are being put at risk on a daily basis on farms and an accident can have a devastating effect on the victim and their family. Farmers need to prioritise compliance with the health and safety regulations.”

Since February 2016, farming companies with a turnover of up to £2million who are found to have breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 can expect to pay fines of up to £450,000.

Larger businesses with turnovers in excess of £50million can face fines of up to £10million. Individuals found guilty of breaching the law can be handed unlimited fines or face a two-year prison sentence.