Farmers face driving hours restrictions

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A MIGHTY spanner might be thrown into the working patterns of farm workers with next summer with major restrictions introduced that could limit the number of hours drivers can sit on their tractor seats.

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations, passed in July 2005, could cut tractor driving time down on tractors registered prior to 2007 in an attempt to reduce the effects of whole body vibration. These can include back pain and other debilitating health problems.

When the regulations, based on a European Union Directive, were introduced, some businesses, including agriculture, were given nine years to comply, which brings in the July 2014 deadline.

Yesterday, Scottish MEP George Lyon said if the rules were implemented and enforced without flexibility for farmers it was possible it could end up with a situation where some people would not be able to plough their fields.

He added: “Health and safety is important, but with tractor technology having improved significantly in recent years there is an overwhelming case for the exemption that the agricultural sector has from these rules to be extended.”

A spokesman for NFU Scotland also expressed a hope that the exemption could be extended but added that the union would deal with any new proposal when it came forward.

He was also of the view that safety on the farm was paramount and any decision would be made with that in mind.

Last night a spokesman for the Scottish Government said it would resist any proposal that was either “disproportionate or unreasonable”.

“The current regulations allow for exposure above the maximum so long as this is reasonably practical. It has allowed farmers to find a balance to lessen the risk as much as possible while allowing the industry to flourish without too much red tape.

“We will be looking for a similar approach when the current exemption expires in 2014 and will be exploring the possible implications with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and others stakeholders.”

A spokesman for the HSE said: “These regulations are there to protect workers and require employers to manage health risks for their employees. It was recognised that agriculture and forestry industries have unique challenges, which is why they had an additional eight years to comply.”