£36k fine issued after farm worker crushed under hay bales

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

The man was stuck underneath five hay bales. Credit: Getty / kevinjeon00
The man was stuck underneath five hay bales. Credit: Getty / kevinjeon00

Related tags health & safety

A farming partnership in Surrey has been fined after a worker was seriously injured in its barn.

Christopher Rolfe, from Horsham in West Sussex, sustained four rib fractures following an incident where five hay bales, each weighing 600kg, fell on top of him at Polesden Lacey Farm on 28 April 2022.

Aged 26 at the time, Rolfe had gone into the barn to collect the bales which were being stored on a layer of pallets. As he was removing the pallets to reach the stack of bales, an entire column of five fell over and crushed him against the floor.

Hearing his shouts, a nearby dog walker alerted the emergency services and Rolfe was airlifted to hospital. He suffered fractures to his pelvis, ankle and ribs, and underwent emergency surgery before starting months of rehabilitation in order to regain his mobility.

Rolfe, who had a four-year-old son at the time of the incident, has since resumed his career in farming after making a recovery from his injuries.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the poorly constructed stack of bales had not been stacked on firm, dry, level, freely draining ground but instead on top of old pallets as the barn floor was uneven and prone to waterlogging. The bales were placed in vertical columns and were not ‘tied in’ by alternating the layers so the bales overlap and stop the stack from splitting.

Meanwhile, the company had failed to identify safe working methods for unstacking bales, keeping the face racked back as bales were removed.

On 15 May 2024, F Conisbee and Sons Ltd, of Ockham Road South, East Horsley, Surrey, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 10 (4) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and was fined £36,000 and ordered to pay £4,986 in costs at Staines Magistrates’ Court.

“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,”​ said HSE inspector Sally Parkes.

“Health and safety is a fundamental requirement of a 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.”

Recalling the incident, Rolfe said that he is now very aware of the dangers associated with the machinery used on farms.

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

“I was later told that if I had gone by road to the hospital I would have died. But at the time, I didn’t even want to go to hospital. The biggest thing that went through my mind at the time was that I’d just ruined my summer.

“Having spoken to the staff at Kent Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance, I’ve come to realise just how important they are. When I needed them, they were there. My son, who’s now seven is even a young ambassador for them. So something really good has come from a really bad situation.”

In other news, Kellogg’s Manchester factory to close with 360 jobs losses expected.

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