I am well aware that articles on health and safety and related topics tend to deprecate the legislation, but I am not going to go there. The truth of the matter is that accidents at work, not infrequently, have horrible consequences for the victims. They may also result in the employer being prosecuted in the criminal courts and in civil claims for compensation.
In this article I intend to review three key documents that are relevant to the gamekeeper. These are: the landowner’s risk assessment, the shoot manager’s risk assessment and the shoot’s lone worker policy. If at this point you have no knowledge of these then your landowner, shoot manager (if they are somebody different to the landowner) and you have some paperwork to do and, just as important, some thoughtful preparation for the contents of this. This process is not just a box-ticking exercise; it must be a meaningful, genuine attempt to assess risks and manage them. There may come a moment when the existence of the documents that are produced will avoid an accident, minimise its consequences, or even avoid criminal and civil law liabilities.
Turning first to the landowner’s land risk assessment, the landowner has a responsibility to inform his gamekeeper of the dangers present on his land, be it in fields, woods, uncultivated areas, and in buildings and structures. The main hazards should be listed, together with appropriate actions designed to reduce the risk in each case. In this ‘overview’ article I cannot set out all possible risks and, in any event, these are likely to be specific to the land that is subject to the assessment. However, the model assessment would include a chart setting out the general nature of the hazard, the description of the hazard, the action to be taken by the gamekeeper to reduce the risk of it, and the source of information about it.
A general hazard might be something like ‘uneven ground’. A description of the hazard might assess most of the ground as fairly flat with banks, culverts, ditches, an old marl pit, and badger setts being likely to create hazards around access and use. The gamekeeper might then be advised to familiarise himself with the access ways and the land, to wear appropriate boots, and to drive or ride with particular care in appropriate vehicles within sensible limitations. If this sounds simplistic, you should think of the number of accidents involving quad bikes that occur in rural areas.
This assessment would need a section on woodland and forest hazards, and the Forestry Commission has a relevant dangerous tree policy. The FC also has an informative safety advice card relevant to another section on ‘bites and stings’. The description of hazards under this section would include such hazards as ticks, which are liable to cause Lyme disease. Action to be taken to reduce this particular hazard would include instructions to tuck trousers into socks, or to wear gaiters, to deter ticks, to self-inspect the body and to seek prompt medical advice if Lyme symptoms are observed. Again, this may sound simplistic, but I personally know of two men who nearly died as a result of Lyme so it’s always wise to be cautious.
There are, of course, numerous other hazard sections to any landowner’s risk assessment which will cover weather, driving all sorts of vehicles, human features, human litter and fly tipping, dog faeces and, of course, farming, forestry and shooting activities and the hazards created by members of the public. My list is far from exhaustive and one farm or estate will differ from another depending on its characteristics and the activities that take place on it.
Turning to the shoot management risk assessment, this will be necessary as a separate document where the landowner and shoot managers are different people. In a few cases, the landowner owns the land but not the sporting rights. Where the sporting rights have been severed there is great potential for conflict but, for the purposes of this article, it requires the shooting or sporting rights owner to draft his own risk assessment. This will be referable to the landowner’s assessment as discussed above. In this, the shoot manger will need to assess (and be seen to have assessed) the risks inherent in the shoot and ancillary activities incidental to it. Once again, a chart will be required with sections assessing the severity of hazards, the probability of hazards, and the residual risk.
In this, just by way of example, ‘accidental discharge of firearms’ might be described as one hazard, with the firearms handler, fellow guns, beaters and shoot staff being the persons likely to be harmed. The shoot should say what it is doing to prevent this, such as by safe shooting, training in weapons handling, and what, if any, further steps are needed, with the residual risk assessed at the appropriate level of severity. Of course, there would be sections in the chart covering all possible hazards within the shoot’s activities, and these would likely range from hazards on the rearing field to falls from ladders or high seats and, as always, those hazards that relate to the public and public access.
If the overall risk is assessed as anything other than low, both the shoot and landowner will need to work on the reduction of the risk, and the landowner may look to the lease or licence under which the shoot is held to bring about a reduction in the relevant risks.
Finally, a lone worker policy is essential because there may be a requirement for gamekeepers to work alone on open land, in woodland, and in buildings in order to carry out their duties. The policy will require the gamekeeper to have procedures when he is working alone, such as booking in and out, with perhaps a checking out time. The policy will specify the equipment to be carried, such as an adequately charged mobile phone, torch and such like. It will specify the action required when a gamekeeper is overdue by more than a certain time, say one hour. Procedure for phone or radio communication will be set out in this.
Of course, each lone worker situation is unique, but the policy is intended to protect the gamekeeper who is working on his own in the event of accident or sudden illness. That gamekeeper could be you. It could be your rifle that blows back, your high seat that collapses, or your heart that suffers an attack. I actually know of a gamekeeper who suffered a heart attack while working alone and, thanks to having his truck handy, was just able to drive himself to his GP surgery in the village: he survived thanks to his doctor’s intervention. These things happen, and the assessments and procedures in place could save your life, as they saved his. This being the case, I urge all my gamekeeper readers to check these documents are in order.
David Barrington Barnes
David Barrington Barnes is a retired solicitor.
His Shooting Law Ltd consultancy specialises exclusively in advising on shooting and firearms law.
T: 07887 762275