PEOPLE are eight times more likely to die working on a farm in Ireland than in the general working population, given provisional figures on workplace fatalities for 2016 released by the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) this week.
Of the 44 workplace fatalities in Ireland last year, 21 of them took place on farms.
Farming accounted for almost half of all work-related fatalities recorded for 2016, even though the sector employs only 6% of the country’s workforce.
More worryingly, HSA research also reveals that similar accidents keep occurring year after year and that, in general, farmers’ attitudes to safety only change after serious injury occurs. On average, 19 people are killed each year in farm-related workplace incidents and there have been 194 farming fatalities in the last decade.
The year 2014 was the worst in over 20 years with 30 fatalities. There were 18 farm deaths in 2015 and that figure increased to 21 in 2016, three of which were in Co Cork. Those most vulnerable to death and injury on Irish farms are older and younger people.
The Minister of State for Employment and Small Business, Pat Breen, TD, voiced his concern at the sharp increase in fatal farm accidents while attending a farm safety walk in Co Clare just before Christmas: ‘It is greatly concerning to me that so many families are losing loved ones due to work activity.
‘Farming is a way of life as well as an industry and we must remember that it is not just the farmer that is at risk, but family members too. I believe that we must all work together as a community, along with the HSA and Teagasc, to reduce these tragedies.’
He appealed to farmers to take some time to consider the risks in every job they do and to work out a plan to manage the hazards before they start work. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Farm Safety Partnership, Professor Jim Phelan, has called on farmers to commit to making changes in how they approach farm safety: ‘We know that farmers are receptive to the message that safety is vital, but we need to see that manifested in how they approach their work. Safety is not something you just talk about; it is something you must build into your work every day.’
The four key areas for health and safety on the farm are tractors and machinery, livestock handling, farm buildings and slurry management.
The biggest cause of farm deaths is accidents involving tractor and machinery use, so farmers should be aware of the risks involved in changing PTO guards and when carrying out maintenance work on machinery and buildings.
Livestock should be handled with care and slurry agitation should only be done on windy days.