Farming partnership breaches Work at Height law in hay bale crush incident

  • Health & Safety
farming
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

A farming partnership in Surrey has pleaded guilty to breaching Work at Height Regulations after a man was seriously injured by falling hay bales.

Christopher Rolfe, 26, sustained four rib fractures when five hay bales, each weighing 600kg, fell on top of him at Polesden Lacey Farm on 28 April 2022. He also suffered fractures to his pelvis and ankle.

Christopher was collecting hay bales to be delivered to local customers. The bales were being stored on a layer of pallets to keep them off the damp floor, so he began to remove the pallets to reach the stack of bales.

As he did so, an entire column of five bales toppled over and crushed him against the floor. Pinned by the weight of the bales, Christopher could only lie on the barn floor, screaming for help. Eventually, a passing dog walker heard his cries and alerted emergency services.

Christopher was airlifted to hospital for emergency surgery. Over the next few months he underwent rehabilitation to regain his mobility, so he could begin to walk again and care for his 4-year old son.

Although he has since returned to farm work, Christopher looks at farm safety very differently since the incident:

“I was a stereotypical young man in agriculture. I always thought I’d be fine – as long as I got to drive a quarter of a million pound tractor down the road with everyone looking at me.

“Now that’s the last thing on my mind. I very much look at every piece of machinery in front of me and think how quickly can that thing kill me.

“I was lucky to come away with just a broken hip and leg fractures.”

Investigating the incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the poorly constructed stack of bales had not been stacked on firm, dry, level, freely draining ground as guidance recommends. The bales were actually stacked on top of old pallets, as the barn floor was uneven and prone to waterlogging.

Placed in vertical columns, the bales were not ‘tied in’ by alternating the layers to create an overlap, which stops the stack from splitting.

The company, F Conisbee and Sons Ltd, had also failed to identify safe working methods for unstacking bales, keeping the face racked back as bales were removed.

Appearing at Staines Magistrates’ Court on 15 May 2024, F Conisbee and Sons Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 10 (4) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The company was fined £36,000 and ordered to pay £4,986 in costs.

Speaking after sentencing, HSE Inspector Sally Parkes said:

“This accident would have been easily avoided if the farm had followed the guidance published by either HSE or the National Farmers Union on the safe stacking of bales. Stacking bales requires skill and should be overseen directly by someone with knowledge of the industry guidance.

“Health and safety is a fundamental requirement of Ria sustainable farming business yet over the last 10 years, almost one person a week is killed and many more are seriously injured as a result of agricultural work.

“Even with the considerable financial strain on UK farming, prioritising health and safety not only ensures workers are kept safe but also improves well-being and health outcomes alongside supporting productivity and efficiency on farms.”

Visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like Are ladders safe to use for work at height?

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