The December 2020 Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the death of Iain MacNicol, made recommendations about the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). While the recommendations are only binding on those named by the FAI, they serve to underline the risks posed by ATVs and the importance of following the HSE guidance on their use.
Mr MacNicol, 76, died while rounding up sheep on an ATV. His death was attributed to several factors which included the driving conditions and driver confidence. The Sheriff hearing the inquiry recommended that, in the future, all of those who use the vehicles for work should receive a course of driving instruction specific to ATVs. This recommendation may seem incongruous because ATVs are regularly used for agricultural work and are probably used without much thought or concern, but their familiarity and ubiquity perhaps belies the risks they pose to workers.
Indeed, serious accidents and deaths are not uncommon among agricultural workers; the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) statistics show that the sector has the worst rate of worker fatal injury across all industrial sectors and is eighteen times higher than the all industry average. And this cost is not just human, again, according to the HSE, the total cost of workplace injury to agriculture, forestry, and fishing is estimated at between £108m and £274m per year. It is clear that more needs to be done and that perhaps longstanding practices should be challenged or improved.
The evidence at this inquiry found agreement that there was "an art" to driving an ATV and the sheriff concluded that therefore training in how to use one was necessary to manage the risks posed by the activity. It was also noted that ATVs were particularly dangerous because they are open to the elements and have no roll bar to protect the driver if the vehicle topples.
The HSE has already issued guidance which notes the obligation on employers to provide adequate training on the use of ATVs – the same requirement applies to the self-employed, who must ensure that they undertake training before using an ATV. Although failure to follow this advice could result in criminal prosecution, many remain unaware that they are obliged to provide or undergo training. However, there does appear to be a growing awareness across the sector and notably Yamaha now offers a free one-day ATV competency training course to those purchasing an ATV from them.
Mr MacNicol's death and the Sheriff's recommendations should serve as a reminder both of the real-world importance of following HSE guidance and of the dangers posed by the tasks which are often the most familiar.