Karen Walsh: Requirements are relevant in criminal proceedings

It’s another dark year so far for farm deaths, despite the focus on farm safety.

Farm deaths cannot be compared to any other work environment. According to the Healthy and Safety Authority, age and location are key factors in farm deaths in Ireland.

Deaths in agriculture, unlike many other sectors, generally involve family members, including children and elderly persons.

The average age of an Irish farmer now stands at 57 years, and rising, and age is a major contributing factor in farm accidents in Ireland (both fatal and non-fatal).

What are the obligations on farmers in relation to health and safety?

The Safety, Health and Welfare Work Act 2005 places a legal duty on employers to prepare and work to a Safety Statement or a Risk Assessment Document where there are three employees or more. 

The Code of Practice for preventing injury and occupational ill-health in agriculture came into effect in 2006 and incorporates a risk assessment document and safe system of work plan. 

Failure to observe the Code of Practice may be admissible as evidence in criminal proceedings. 

Alternatively, where the Code of Practice was followed and an accident happened despite the precautions taken, the Code of Practice can be relied on by the farmer in defending criminal proceedings.

Consequently, it is important that farmers familiarise themselves with the Code of Practice, which will enable them to:


Identify potential hazards on the farm.


Assess the risk of each hazard occurring.


Identify the measures that can be put in place to prevent or reduce the impact of an accident.

This may be achieved by:


Eliminating the hazard, for example, using AI instead of keeping a stock bull.


Reducing the danger, for example, putting up hazard warning signs and providing personal protective equipment such as eye goggles, veterinary goggles etc.

The Code of Practice gives practical advice in relation to safety with vehicles, machinery, livestock, slurry storage, gas, safe use of chemicals on the farm etc.

The Safety Statement and risk assessment document should be brought to the attention of all people who work on the farm. 

The Risk Assessment document is the minimum legal requirement on all farms. 

In this document, a commitment is made to provide a safe place of work, use safe systems of work and provide all machinery with protective equipment, information, training and supervision necessary to protect those at risk. 

It is important that this document is reviewed at regular intervals and when there are changes in the business.

All people who work on the farm, including family members, casual or relief workers, contractors and people supplying goods and services, must be made aware of the dangers of the farm.

An Inspector of the Health & Safety Authority may examine the Safety Statement or Risk Assessment Document. 

The Inspector would also examine how the safety and health measures are being implemented on the farm. If they are found to be inadequate, the inspector can advise you to revise it within 30 days. Prosecution is possible for non-compliance.

What are the obligations on farmers in relation to children?

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Children and Young Persons) Regulations, 1998 require farmers to identify what work is suitable for children and what work is not suitable. 

The Code of Practice provides that children under 14 should not be allowed to drive or operate tractors and machinery, while those over 14 are only allowed to do so after they receive formal training.

What are the obligations on farmers when an accident occurs?

Where an accident does happen, it must be reported to the Health and Safety Authority where the injured person cannot perform their normal work for more than three consecutive days (not including the day of the accident).

Weekends and other days off are included when calculating days.

Where general injuries are caused to members of the public, the accident is reportable where the person requires treatment from a medical practitioner. The Authority must also be notified of the specified dangers, occurrences (fires, explosions and chemical spillages).

If a dangerous situation arises, work should stop immediately until the hazard or danger is controlled. 

In the event of a fatal accident, the employer is obliged to immediately report the accident to the Health and Safety Authority and the Gardai.

While the law in relation to health and safety definitely involves more administrative work, time and consideration, if it saves the life of one person, the return will, without doubt, be worth it.


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