Agricultural Transport – getting it right

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Businesses in the agriculture sector have to juggle many different sets of regulations, policed by different regulators such as the Environment Agency. The penalties for non-compliance have gone through the roof in recent years. It means that if something goes wrong a business may be unable to continue to trade or it will be hurt financially to its detriment.

One vital area is the ability to deploy vehicles, machinery and drivers safely and lawfully – on the farm or at the operating centre and when on the public highway. This area alone is complex in its own right and can be overwhelming, not least if there are at the same time a number of other regulatory fronts to be fighting on. To make matters worse there are issues affecting the sector that appear to have no immediate solution. For example, the shortage of drivers – now thought to sit at about 50,000 – is worsening as older drivers retire or EU nationals leave the UK or are not inclined to come to the UK due to the current climate. There is no clear way out of this or any growing supply of drivers coming online who can ‘back-fill’ the void to address this.

The main transport regulatory areas to be managed by businesses in this sector are:

  • operator licensing and exemptions
  • driver licensing (including Driver CPC: mandatory CPD for vocational drivers)
  • EU and GB drivers’ hours rules and exemptions / working time rules
  • safe vehicles / maintenance: construction and use regulations (C & U)
  • animal welfare / transport including equestrian
  • rebated fuel (including HMRC investigations)
  • health and safety: safe systems, loads procedures.

One problematic area is that the nature of agricultural work may be seasonal or unpredictable. Many regulations to which drivers and businesses are subject simply do not lend themselves to the sector. For example, drivers’ hours and working time rules may be easy to apply to traditional ‘haulage businesses’ but they can be difficult to manage where on one and the same day a driver may be working under more than one set of regulations or where, say, there is intense harvest work.

There are numerous different types of diverse vehicles and trailers; Which need to have an operator’s licence? Which are exempt? Are they exempt but only in certain circumstances? What driving licence is required? Can I use rebated fuel for this operation?

In our experience businesses often do not take any or adequate steps to continually review compliance standards, ensure proper systems are in place and act lawfully. By auditing systems before anything adverse occurs – which we can assist with – any problem areas can be identified and be put right to avoid future problems, with potentially huge consequential savings in terms of reputation and expense.

If there is any intervention by government agencies it will likely be through investigations and then prosecutions brought by the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), police, HSE etc. Those businesses who hold an operator’s licence to run their transport fleet may end up in front of the East of England Traffic Commissioner whose powers in reality may be said to be greater than that of a criminal court since they can remove or reduce the licence preventing operations on the public highway. We can provide early advice that is essential to be able to deal with investigations of any kind in the best way. These may start at the roadside, take place at your farm, office or operating centre.

At Ashtons Legal our Agriculture team can cover all aspects of sector advice.

Tim is a Partner in Ashtons’ Road Transport and Regulatory team. He is a Chartered Member of the Institute of Logistics and Transport and ranked 1 in the Chambers & Partners 2018 Guide.


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