How to prevent the spread of ragwort: guidance

The guide offers advice to prevent and control the spread of ragwort where there is a threat to the health and welfare of animals.

Appendix 6: safety guidelines

Handling ragwort plants

1 Ragwort is a toxic plant and suitable precautions must be taken when handling both live and dead plants. Hands must be protected by wearing sturdy, waterproof, gardening-type gloves. Arms and legs should also be covered. A facemask should be used to avoid the inhalation of ragwort pollen or other airborne particles.

2 If skin comes into contact with ragwort the area should be thoroughly washed in warm soapy water, rinsed and dried.

General operator safety

3 Care must also be taken to ensure operator safety when undertaking ragwort clearance. This is particularly important when clearance takes place on road verges and other public areas accessed by motor vehicles.

4 If assistance is provided by volunteers they must be competent to undertake the task and have adequate training (including road safety). They should be supervised to ensure that they are not a danger to themselves or to others. This is particularly important when clearing ragwort from verges on roads open to the general public. Volunteers are not permitted to operate on land within the trunk road boundary or land managed by Network Rail or other railway operators.

5 Before clearance commences a sufficient and suitable risk assessment should be undertaken which:

  • identifies the hazards
  • decides who may be harmed by them
  • evaluates the risk and decides whether the existing precautions are adequate or whether more should be done
  • records the findings
  • reviews the assessment and revises it if necessary

Further guidance on undertaking Risk Assessments is available from the Health & Safety Executive (see appendix 7).

6 When digging or pulling ragwort adjacent to a public road, pathway or cycle track, it is essential that operators can be seen by other users. All operators must wear high visibility clothing and generally work facing the traffic as far as practicable. An appropriate level of road safety training must be provided to all operatives to raise the awareness of road safety hazards. No attempt should be made to dig or pull ragwort in poor visibility or during the hours of darkness on roads.

7 Any vehicles used to transport operators to the location where ragwort is being controlled must be parked safely and must not be parked in such a way as to obstruct the road or other public right of way.

8 Road works signing should be set up in accordance with standard practice governing the type of road. On trunk roads, including motorways, different rules apply and traffic signing needs to be approved by the relevant Trunk Road Operating Company prior to being erected or works beginning.

9 On high-speed dual carriageways and motorways where the speed limit exceeds 50mph, special traffic management requirements may be required as determined by the trunk road authority, Transport Scotland, and the relevant trunk road Operating Company.

Prior authority for access to land

10 It is essential that prior authority be obtained before clearance of ragwort is undertaken. Access to land without prior authority would amount to trespass and could lead to a charge of criminal damage. Authority should be obtained as follows:

  • private land - authority must be obtained from the owner/occupier of the land
  • public land - prior authority should be obtained from the relevant public body responsible for the management of that land, i.e. community council, town council, local authority or other public body
  • public local roads, i.e. roadside verges - clearance should only be undertaken with the prior notification and authority of the relevant road authority, i.e. normally the Roads Department of the Local Authority
  • trunk roads including motorways - these are the responsibility of Transport Scotland
  • railway land - this is the responsibility of the railway undertaker concerned which in Scotland would be Network Rail. Unauthorised persons must not under any circumstances enter nor purport to authorise entry by any other person. Only the railway undertaker concerned is in a position to authorise entry by persons in possession of appropriate railway safety certification meeting the requirements of undertakers' Railway Safety Cases approved by the Railways (Safety Case) Regulations 2000 (as amended). A failure to comply with this instruction is likely to place the persons concerned in breach of duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The person(s) authorising entry may in such circumstances also render themselves liable to prosecution in their personal capacity.

Use of herbicides

11 All herbicides are potentially hazardous if not used in accordance with their approval, and where appropriate, environmental risk and COSHH assessments (see appendix 3). Such products should only be used where absolutely necessary. Unnecessary use is uneconomic, can lead to pesticide resistance and, in some cases, may also damage the non-target vegetation and threaten the local environment. A risk assessment must be carried out before application. The risk assessment should determine the risks to operators and other people (including members of the public) and should specify the measures required to adequately control those risks. Any measures deemed appropriate and necessary by risk assessment, e.g. substitution of the product (by a less hazardous one), engineering controls etc, should be implemented, and protective equipment required by and stipulated on the product label should be worn. Information relating to first aid and medical treatment in the event of accidental exposure to the chemical is also given on the product label.

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