History of Occupational Safety and Health in Agriculture

Development of the Agricultural Inspectorate (The Early Years)

by David Mattey
Health and Safety Executive
HM Chief Agricultural Inspector 1996-2000


Creative Commons Licence

This document by David Mattey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

It is published especially for the History of Occupational Safety and Health website www.historyofosh.org.uk


Following the publication of David Eves’ paper Two steps forward, one step back, posted on the History of Occupational Safety and Health website and which chronicles the development of health and safety regimes in the United Kingdom between 1802 and 2014, David Mattey, HM Chief Agricultural Inspector 1996-2000 and Hon. Chairman of MIDAS (the Association of ex Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Agricultural Inspectors), has reviewed information on the Agricultural industry and identified additional published references [listed in Appendix 1 of this paper] which provide a comprehensive account of the history of Health and Safety in Agriculture, leading up to the formation of “HM Agricultural Inspectorate” within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The merger of the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food’s (MAFF’s) Farm Safety Inspectorate into the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is covered briefly in Chapter 5 of David Eves’ paper.

David Mattey’s report provides an interesting additional historical perspective on the evolution and philosophy of the ‘Agricultural Inspectorate’ and expands on the background information summarised in Alan Plom’s ‘commemorative’ article Back to Their Roots, which was originally published in the HSE staff magazine Express in Feb 2007.


  1. 1. The Early Years
  2. 2. Setting up an Agricultural Inspectorate – Priorities and Politics
    1. 2.1 Priorities for regulation
      • Gower Report in 1946
    2. 2.2 Origin of the Inspectorate
      • USA Lend-Lease Act
      • Anglo-American Loan Agreement
      • Safety and Wages Inspectorate
      • Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF)
    3. 2.3 ‘Politics’
    4. 2.4 Standards
      • Various Committees
  3. 3. ‘One perspective’
    1. 3.1 The Industry Challenge
      • Agriculture Act 1947
    2. 3.2 ‘Three skill’ field force
  4. 4. The need for change
    1. 4.1 Organisational change
      • Robens Report
      • Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974
    2. 4.2 End of an Era
      • New challenges
      • New structure
  5. 5. Challenges and Milestones in Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
    1. 5.1 ‘Settling in’
    2. 5.2 Ensuring competency
    3. 5.3 Liaison with the Industry
      • Agricultural Industry Advisory Committee (AIAC)
      • Agricultural Health and Safety Information Centre, Stoneleigh, UK
    4. 5.4 The Final Chapter
  6. 6. From a personal viewpoint
  7. Appendix 1 – References
  8. Appendix 2 – Chief Inspectors: Agricultural Health and Safety

1. The Early Years

The above sub-title is relative! Compared to the history of Factories legislation, Agriculture was very much the newcomer. However, from a time when farm deaths had peaked at 183 in one year [2], significant change was achieved between the mid 1950s and the mid 1970s, when new legislation was introduced and implemented, together with the establishment of a structure for encouraging compliance and enabling enforcement.

The major events, legislation enacted, details of mergers, major disasters are listed in the Timeline and are also outlined in basic form in the Brief History section of David Eves’ paper Two steps forward, one step back and Alan Plom’s Back to Their Roots article expands the picture across a wider area. However, there still seems opportunity to look back to the early days of agricultural health and safety in more detail and to identify other relevant information and references. Also to describe the perception which reflected the thinking of the day and the practical challenges faced in the early stated goal of “preventing accidents”.

One particular document, published in 1966, encompasses most of that intention: Farm Safety, by G S Wilson, MAFF Chief Safety Inspector (1965-1968).

2. Setting up an Agricultural Inspectorate – Priorities and Politics

2.1 Priorities for regulation

In 1946, the Gowers Committee examined health and safety issues in those industries where no existing legislation applied, or was deemed suitable – this included Agriculture. The Gowers Committee Report published in 1949 recommended legislation for Agriculture.

This led to the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act 1952 and the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act 1956. As enabling Acts, these gave powers to Ministers of Agriculture for implementation. This included proposing specific Regulations, the appointment of Inspectors, and their powers.

The risks from the wide range of poisonous substances used in the industry were identified as a top priority, and these were addressed initially by the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Regulations 1953. Other ‘traditional’ Safety, Health and Welfare hazards in the industry also received early attention, with nine separate Regulations being introduced between 1957 and 1960. [1] Other ongoing concerns included risks from zoonoses, dust, noise, and livestock. [3] [4]

As a point of interest, agricultural safety legislation could be said to have been ahead of its time! Two 19th Century agricultural machine specific Acts – on safety of ‘Threshers and Balers’ and ‘Chaff Cutters’, which were introduced in 1878 and 1897 respectively and enforced by the Police – contained a reference to “so far as is reasonably practicable”. Interestingly, Wilson picked up on this in his Report and described it as “vague wording”. This was at a time when the focus of Regulations under the 1952 and 1956 Acts, as in other industries, was on absolute, prescriptive requirements.

However, one of the “newer” emerging issues concerned the major change in farm mechanisation, and the additional risks in operation of powered equipment which moved over the ground rather than working in a static position. One of the first initiatives introduced by MAFF was a system to agree standards with individual manufacturers and importers. Machinery – both mobile and static types – was subsequently inspected by nominated Inspectors, and the standard of guarding and any other necessary protective features were agreed. Reports (with photos and drawings) were then made available to all Inspectors nationally, in a series of “Technical Notes”. This process avoided differences of opinion on design and compliance at the point of sale, and also provided models or examples for safeguarding existing equipment and similar designs in the future.

Agriculture (Field Machinery) Regulations were finally introduced in 1962. Whilst issues such as guarding of moving parts, marking of controls, and access to tractors were included under these Regulations, the main cause for concern – that of injury following an overturn, was not. Of the total agricultural fatal accidents in 1966, a third (53) involved tractor overturns. Hence Agriculture (Tractor Cabs) Regulations were first introduced in 1967, updated in 1973 and 1974. These primarily required approved ‘roll-over protective structures’ (ROPS) to be fitted to tractors, to protect the operator. They were phased in for existing as well as new tractors, and latterly included requirements for noise attenuation. This was also a consequence of enclosed ‘weather cabs’ being fitted, which significantly increased noise levels at the driver position.

A significant amount of Inspector resource was put into this aspect. This was an international issue which involved manufacturers and researchers, particularly Scandinavia and USA as well as the UK’s National Institute of Agricultural Engineering (NIAE), in developing design and test standards, with the necessary standard testing facilities, leading to BSI Standards and the Tractor Cab Approval Scheme.

Approved air filtration units fitted to enclosed cabs were also developed, to reduce the requirement on the operator to wear protective clothing under the Poisonous Substances Regulations

2.2 Origin of the Inspectorate

The original cadre of inspectors combined existing inspection regimes, i.e. from ‘Machinery’ (established by the USA Lend-Lease Act / Anglo-American Loan Agreement 1946), ‘Wages’ (the Agricultural Wages Act 1948), and ‘Poisonous Substances’ (the 1952 Act), plus new duties under the then new Safety Health and Welfare Provisions Act (1956), to form the Safety and Wages Inspectorate in 1957, under MAFF. This created an HQ with a Chief Inspector and two Deputies, and about 60 field-based Inspectors. Scotland was administered separately with a small cadre within The Scottish Office (Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries). Northern Ireland was administered by the Ministry of Agriculture Northern Ireland (MANI).

Significantly, no proposal was made for an Inspectorate in its own right, i.e. with direct line management of field-based staff.

2.3 ‘Politics’

Two political and organisational factors coincided. The anticipated need to expand the Inspectorate as Regulations developed and the ability of the existing executive Field force to respond to pressures on MAFF in areas of Food Production (Subsidies/Grants being a major component), and Pest Control, following the closure of its Pest Control Service (S.101 Agriculture Act 1947).

In 1957 MAFF introduced a Regional structure. In 1960 ‘Wages’ duties ceased, and the “Safety Inspectorate” was formed. Extensive training and recruitment programmes were developed, resulting by 1965 in the establishment of a group of about 400 appointed Inspectors, responsible for three areas of statutory inspection activities (i.e. Safety, Pests and ‘Executive’ functions). Field based inspectors now included 8 Regional and 31 Divisional Safety Inspectors, full time. Work programmes and performance was line managed by the Executive arm of MAFF.

2.4 Standards

As touched on earlier, the emphasis on Standards was key. As the process described earlier was successfully initiated, the principle of resolving issues at source remained. A major feature of the HQ Inspector’s role was membership of international Standards Committees, including ILO, ISO, OECD, EFTA, and later EC/EU, as well as BSI Committees. Commitment to reach agreement across a wide disparity of agricultural systems and politics proved worthwhile, if time consuming.

Tripartite industry support also led to the formation of County Safety Committees and a National MAFF led Steering Group. Major Publicity Campaigns were also a strong ongoing feature to target the interests of the wider agricultural community affected by the legislation [5] [6].

3. ‘One perspective’

3.1 The Industry Challenge

The attitude of employers and others to the heightened emphasis on health, safety and welfare, in itself provided a challenge to Inspectors. Not that all farmers were anti – most welcomed practical advice on how to meet their new obligations. But in other cases a suspicious approach to any officialdom reflected an earlier background of “State control” over their farming operations to support food production during the Second World War, via the tripartite “County War Agricultural Committees”. The Agriculture Act 1947 disbanded the “WarAgs” as they were known, but this only resulted in new subsidy responsibilities being delegated to new Committees. These Committees were the subject of acrimony within the Industry over their local administration management. They were disbanded following the closure of the Ministry of Food and the Arton Wilson Report 1956. The combination of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food interests were centralised within a single Government Department (MAFF), and the organisation was restructured, with the introduction of Regions, Divisions and Areas in 1957.

3.2 ‘Three skill’ field force

It was considered that the creation of a ‘three skill’ field force could prove advantageous, in that those Inspectors already worked individually in allocated geographical areas and were known in those communities. They also had access to extensive records under the annual Agricultural Census with which to identify farms, including details of each farm’s activities and labour force, thus providing information for targeting inspection.

A fair allocation of work programme time inferred an equal three-way split, resulting in about 150 Inspector year equivalents. Inspectors were regularly visiting farms, and of course could also see potential contraventions from the public highway. Frequently for efficiency reasons, more than one area of expertise was covered on a single visit. With an emphasis on health and safety and one measure being that of inspection numbers, the likelihood of inspection and implication of compliance was real.

Inspectors therefore were very much the front line, in initially winning confidence and through persuasion, even though the absolute/prescriptive nature of health and safety legislation meant little debate about interpretation and with the potential threat of enforcement if necessary.

4. The need for change

4.1 Organisational change

The structural arrangements remained the same for about 12 years, leading up to The Robens Report 1972, the subsequent Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSW Act), and consequent establishment of HSE.

The HSW Act (S.29) originally made special provisions for Agriculture, and for implementation to remain the responsibility of Agriculture Ministers. Clearly, not in accordance with HSE’s, and its Director General’s views, on what was best for the future in a wider context.

After much political debate the HQ based Chief Inspector, two Deputies and their two support Inspectors were transferred to HSE in 1976, leaving a third Deputy (Operations), his support Inspector and some 160 allocated full time Inspectors to operate under a Memorandum of Understanding within MAFF, but with technical and national policy input from HSE. The Scottish Inspectorate was also disbanded, and some 12 Inspectors transferred to HSE at that time.

Eventually it was an amendment to the 1974 HSW Act by the Employment Protection Act 1975 which repealed the Special Provisions. The MAFF link ceased, and the “inspector contingent” operating under its control transferred to HSE in 1977. A situation welcomed by those who became HM Inspectors in the newly formed HM Agricultural Inspectorate.

This was an interesting phase, given that John Locke, the first HSE Director General, was himself ex MAFF.

4.2 End of an Era

And so with the ending of the MAFF era, the “Early Years” were over and new challenges awaited, with bedding in to a new structure within HSE, and further professional and organisational evolution anticipated.

The names of all ‘Chief Agricultural Inspectors’ are listed in Appendix 2, but one in particular stands out for his contribution to the development of ‘HMAI’. John Weeks CBE (Chief Inspector 1968-1981) who died in 2011 aged 93, combined an extensive knowledge of the industry, technical ability, vision, and respect of colleagues and the industry. His approachability and leadership provided a key influence in guiding the Inspectorate through the early days in MAFF, and its transition into HSE.

5. Challenge and Milestones in HSE

To complete the history of the “Agricultural Inspectorate”, it is worth recording some of the key elements of change which occurred within HSE.

5.1 ‘Settling in’

HM Agricultural Inspectorate (HMAI) was established in 1976 by HSE, initially as part of Safety Policy Division, but remained in MAFF/DAFS accommodation. From 1977 HMAI’s Regional structure inherited from MAFF (plus Scotland) continued, but with inspectors mostly co–located with other HSE staff, primarily HM Factory Inspectors within the HSE Area structure. A mixture of satellite offices and “home based” arrangements continued for the more remotely based Inspectors and large geographical areas. Good communication proved a vital element in moving forward within the transition period into the new organisation.

When HSE was formed it had reportedly inherited some 25+ different grades of Inspector from various Departments. It sought basically to rationalise that situation by undertaking a detailed comparison of responsibilities and the actual roles undertaken by all inspectors, placing them in ‘Job Bands’. The 1978 Job Evaluation Exercise resulted in the alignment of HMAI grades with HMFI, and to achieve parity HMAI posts were subsequently re-graded upwards.

5.2 Ensuring competency

Training received close attention. The first “HM Agricultural Inspectors” recruited directly into HSE, joined in 1979. Their training paralleled Her Majesty’s Factory Inspectorate (HMFI), with HMAI trainees (HM Assistant Agricultural Inspectors) being required to complete the Health and Safety Diploma Course, initially at Aston University.

The Inspectorate also provided inspection opportunity for Aston University’s Prof. Richard Booth to specifically identify and include agricultural references and examples within Aston University Courses. Similarly, existing Inspectors also had the opportunity to join both these and a range of in house HSE Courses. Experience of the industry was originally a pre-requisite to joining as an HM Agricultural Inspector, but latterly Inspectors were recruited as more ‘generalist’ inspectors, and received their training in ‘agriculture’ as with other industries, through the national training system. Thus a broader professional base began to be established for Inspectors and perhaps the availability of multi discipline opportunities which the future might hold.

5.3 Liaison with the Industry

The ‘Inspectorate’ has traditionally maintained publicity and liaison with people working in the industry at all levels as a priority, recognising that adequate representation of all interested parties, and two-way flow of information is vital to encouraging improvements in the industry. MAFF’s original Agriculture ‘Steering Group’ was reformed as the Health and Safety Commission’s Agricultural Industry Advisory Committee (AIAC). The main committee and its various topic-based sub committees have provided a conduit for communication, with various changes in structure and focus over the decades. It is still active today and working alongside the industry’s own national ‘Farm Safety Partnerships’ set up in recent years.

In 1981 the Agricultural Health and Safety Information Centre opened on the Royal Agricultural Society England (RASE) Campus at the National Agricultural Showground, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. Within this ‘village’ of head offices of national organisations, agricultural businesses, and demonstration farm units, HSE’s purpose-built exhibition centre provided a ‘drop-in’ centre for people working in the industry to pick up information and receive personal advice throughout the year. However, it achieved prominence during the annual Royal Agricultural Show and the many other specialist events, meetings and other promotional activities held on the Showground during the year. Originally designed to house an Inspector group together with support staff for local inspection activities and exhibition duties, later modification provided accommodation for a number of inspectors and support staff working in HMAI’s National Interest Groups (NIGs). The facility was closed in 2007 following a review of HSE’s ‘estate’, and subsequent reduction in the number of offices. This also coincided with ongoing business change within The Royal Agricultural Society, including the demise of the annual showpiece, The Royal Show.

5.4 The Final Chapter

The Inspectorate operated in virtually the same identifiable form, within HSE’s wider Field Operations umbrella, until about 1988/89 when reorganisation proposals disbanded the HMAI Regional structure. The HQ cadre remained, plus three new out-stationed “Topic Lead” Inspectors, These later became Heads of National Industry Groups and then National Interest Groups (NIG) posts. This vital role in setting standards and providing guidance for the industry and inspectors is now performed by HSE’s ‘Agriculture Sector’.

Line management responsibility for the field Inspector Groups moved to HSE Area Directors, and by 1991, Regional Directors were appointed with overall responsibility for a number of Areas – in tandem with existing duties in professional and technical disciplines. This process – through its various incarnations, e.g. the ‘Agriculture, Factories and Quarries Division’, leading up to the ‘Field Operations Division’ (FOD) formed in 1994 – is described more fully in David Eves’ paper. This led to the absorption of the Agricultural Inspectorate into a wider organisation where work programmes and performance could be managed across disciplines. It also expanded opportunities for cross pollination of expertise, e.g. within “Management”, “Inspector” and “Policy” posts, and for individual’s development to be better explored.

In 1995 following a Feasibility Study on Management Arrangements in FOD, the Division adopted Regionalisation. The Regional Director role became fully established; the Area Director role ceased; and new management roles with new Inspector group working was introduced

The HM Agricultural Inspectorate as such finally ceased to exist. However the Chief Inspector post was retained for some 8 years as HSE “Lead” for the Industry, together with separate Regional Director management responsibilities.

6. From a personal viewpoint

Some of these historical events are still (just) within living memory, and researching and compiling this review has created the opportunity to provide a comprehensive record of the early history of Agricultural Health and Safety through to the present day, in one place.

I am pleased to have been able to gather the strands together – historically as the youngest Inspector ever appointed and at the other end of my career being the last to hold the original formal title of ‘HM Chief Agricultural Inspector’. The post dropped the “Agricultural Inspector” reference, becoming Chief Inspector of Agriculture. My successor (Linda Williams) held this title before the post ceased as such in 2003.) I am also proud to be Honorary Chair of MIDAS (the original “Machinery Inspector’s Association”, formed in 1946), which still exists to keep former ‘Agricultural’ Inspectors and any linked staff (in both MAFF and HSE) in touch with other*.

David Mattey

May 2015

* I would like to record my thanks to Alan Plom (MIDAS Hon Sec) for his advice and assistance in the production of this Article. If anyone reading this would like more information or to get in touch with ex-colleagues through MIDAS, please contact Alan, via alan.plom@gmail.com


Appendix 1 – References

  1. Wilson, G. S.
    Farm Safety
    British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1966, Vol. 23, pp. 1–15
  2. Gowers Committee Report on Health Welfare and Safety in Non-Industrial Employment
  3. Wilson, G. S.
    Safety, Health and Welfare in Agriculture
    Annals of Occupational Hygiene, 1969, Vol. 12, pp. 129–135
  4. Burgess, J. E.
    Occupational Health in the Agricultural Industry
    in Current Approaches to Occupational Health, edited by A. Ward-Gardener, Elsevier Ltd, 1982, pp. 62–85
  5. Self, Peter; Storing, Herbert J.
    The State and the Farmer
    George Allen and Unwin, 1962, 1st edition
  6. Soffe, Richard J.
    The Agricultural Notebook
    Wiley-Blackwell, January 2003, 20th Edition, 768 pages, ISBN: 978-0-632-05829-7

Appendix 2 – Chief Inspectors: Agricultural Health and Safety

J C. Gough

1946 – 1957

Chief Machinery Inspector (MAF)

1957 – 1960

Chief Safety and Wages Inspector (MAFF)

J Halliday

1960 – 1965

Chief Safety Inspector (MAFF)

G S Wilson

1965 – 1968

J C Weeks

1968 – 1976

1976 – 1981

HM Chief Agricultural Inspector (HSE)

J R Whitaker

1981 – 1983

C Boswell

1983 – 1993

F D Lindsey

1993 – 1996

D J Mattey

1996 – 2000

L Williams (Mrs)

2000 – 2003

HM Chief Inspector of Agriculture (HSE)

Post and appointment ceased 2003