A Surrey farming partnership has been fined £36,000 after a serious injury to a young father.

On April 28, 2022, Christopher Rolfe from Horsham, West Sussex, suffered four rib fractures when five 600kg hay bales toppled onto him at Polesden Lacey Farm.

Aged 26, Christopher had entered a shed to collect bales for local delivery. The bales were stacked on pallets to keep them off the damp floor. As he removed the pallets, a column of five bales fell, trapping and crushing him. He lay injured, screaming for help until a dog walker notified emergency services. He also suffered fractures to his pelvis and ankle in addition to his ribs.

The Scottish Farmer: Christopher was crushed underneath five 600kg hay bales (image: HSE)Christopher was crushed underneath five 600kg hay bales (image: HSE)

Christopher said: “I was a stereotypical young man in agriculture. I always thought I’d be fine – as long as I got to drive a quarter of a million-pound tractor down the road with everyone looking at me.

“Now that’s the last thing on my mind. I very much look at every piece of machinery in front of me and think how quickly can that thing kill me.

Christopher was airlifted to the hospital, undergoing emergency surgery and months of rehabilitation to regain mobility and care for his four-year-old son. He later reflected, "I was lucky to come away with just a broken hip and leg fractures."

An HSE investigation revealed the poorly constructed stack was placed on uneven, waterlogged ground, not tied in for stability. The company failed to implement safe methods for unstacking bales. HSE guidelines emphasise a dry, sturdy foundation and proper stacking techniques to prevent accidents.

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

The Scottish Farmer: Christopher Rolfe experienced months of rehabilitation following the accident (image: HSE)Christopher Rolfe experienced months of rehabilitation following the accident (image: HSE)

HSE inspector Sally Parkes stated: "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.

This prosecution was led by HSE enforcement lawyer Jonathan Bambro and supported by HSE paralegal officer Ellen Garbutt.