Joe Sheehy: Nothing more important than health and safety

Last year was one of the worst years ever for farm accidents, with over 30 deaths and thousands of serious accidents.

On average, since 2010, there are about 20 fatalities every year. So far this year, there are 13 fatalities, and thousands of serious injuries.

At the start of the summer, the Health and Safety Authority appealed to schools to make children aware of the dangers on farms. 

At that point, farm accidents had claimed the lives of 23 children in the last decade. Farming is the only work place where children continue to be killed and seriously injured.

Despite a huge effort by all concerned with farm safety, the situation seems to be getting worse over the years.

Farming represents more than 40% of all work place accidents, despite accounting for only a small percentage of the work force.

Farmers’ health and safety is a serious matter. It can be the most important factor affecting the lives of farming families.

In recent years, the subject is rightly getting huge coverage in TV, radio and the press, and there are more safety courses and lectures than ever. Unfortunately, that all seems to have little effect in reducing farm fatalities.

A number of years ago, Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) jointly launched an initiative to improve health and safety on farms. 

This was based on a “user-friendly” Code of Practice Risk Assessment document permitted by a 2005 Safety Act. This enables most farmers to keep written documentation to a minimum, as an alternative to completing a safety statement.

A senior HSA officer has admitted that the “softly, softly” approach of the past has not worked, and a stronger approach is needed to reduce accidents. 

A national survey indicates that a high proportion of farmers do not complete the Code of Practice Risk Assessment document, which they are obliged to do by law. 

The HSA are threatening to prosecute farmers who fail to complete the document; the farm organisations are against that approach.

Farmers are in no position to be paying fines, but perhaps a more serious threat of prosecution will help remind them to go through their farms, to identify risks and fill out the code of good practice document.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has suggested tying the risk assessment document to cross-compliance. With hindsight, that might not have been a bad idea, because nothing else seems to be working. 

Data from Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority indicate that serious farm accidents and fatalities increased in the 10 years up to 2007, despite a huge drop in the number of people involved in farming.

There was a reduction in fatalities in 2007, to 11. Unfortunately, there was a reversal in 2008, to a more usual numbers of 21 fatalities, as well as over 2,000 serious non-fatal accidents. Since then, fatalities and accidents have remained unacceptably high, reaching a spike in 2014.


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