Farm safety is back in spotlight

A day when farms are safe workplaces in this country, when children spend their early years in safety preparing for a life in farming, is an ideal recently outlined by President Michael D Higgins.
Farm safety is back in spotlight

He was commenting on figures from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) which shows that 193 people have bee killed in farm accidents in the period 2005 to 2014, with 49% of those involving tractors and machinery.

In recent years, 20 people on average have been killed each year in farm-related workplace incidents.

Last year was particularly tragic, with 30 fatalities, the highest since 1993. This year so far there have been 14 deaths, with tractors and machinery featuring in most of the incidents.

President Higgins said we must resolve to place farm safety at the very heart of our growing agrcultural industry.

He said there is much work under way aimed at reducing the worrying statistics relating to fatalities and also the many non-fatal accidents which occur on farms every year.

Last year saw the country’s first national farm safety awareness day, organised by the Irish Farmers Association, and the Health and Safety Authority.

He said 2014 also saw the founding of Embrace Farm by the family of Liam Rohan, a Co Laois ploughman who represented Ireland four times, but who died tragically following an accident on the family farm in 2012.

“We must always remember our great duty to protect not only our precious land and environment, but also those for whom the land is a way of life,” he said.

President Higgins made his remarks at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois, coinciding with the launch by Ged Nash, the minister of state for business and employment, of a new guide on the safe use of tractors and machinery.

The extensive guide was produced with the assistance of the Farm Safety Partnership and the Road Safety Authority, and is aimed at anyone who regularly operates tractors and machinery.

It highlights the hazards while providing clear advice on how best to reduce the risks.

Some topics covered are: What to ask when purchasing machinery, safety for children, working on hills and slopes, maintenance, and many more aspects of using tractors and machinery in any farm setting.

Mr Nash said the main causes of fatal and serious accidents must be examined and farmers must be given the tools they need to reduce risks and the subsequent tragedies.

“This guide is a useful tool in that important and urgent mission. I believe that change is occurring ad awareness of the dangers has never been higher,” he said.

An estimated €500m per year is spent on tractors and machinery; many tractors cost in excess of €50,000.

However, the HSA is concerned that some farmers are failing to ensure that these investments are well maintained and safe for use.

Health and Safety Authority chief executive Martin O’Halloran believes a number of factors must be looked at in order to reduce the numbers being killed and seriously injured on farms.

“Many tractor and machinery related deaths are as the result of crushing injuries. However, looking past these tragic events we often see issues such as poor maintenance, low levels of training, risk taking and unguarded moving parts as being the real causes,” he said.

Health and Safety Authority statistics show that people are eight times more likely to die working on a farm than in the general working population.

While the agricultural sector represents about 6% of the working population, it consistently has the highest proportion of fatal accident of any sector generally, ranging between 35% and 45% of all workplace fatalities in any given year.

Many fatalities occur when farmers are doing jobs that are not part of their normal working day, such as the maintenance or adjustment of equipment, or maintainng or working on a building.

Another reason for the high fatality rate in the sector is a culture of risk taking with the priority only on getting the job done, rushing and trying to do too much in a day. This risk is combined with large machinery, unpredictable animals and long hours working outdoors in difficult conditions.

According to the Health and Safety Authority, another area of concern is the number and severity of accidents when making or handling bales, with 12 people losing their lives while working in this area over the past three years.

To help farmers and contractors understand the risks involved, the HSA has published an information sheet on working safely with bales.

In general, farmers are advised to plan their work with safety as a prority, be aware how winter weather makes working on land more hazardous and always keep a charged mobile phone with them at all times.

They are also urged to wear high-visibility clothing, wear appropriate footwear and to take particular care when working at height, which can be even more dangerous in winter.

Meawhile, the HSA is continuing to work with the Farm Safety Partnership and engaging with farmers through discussion groups and farm walks, providing guidance on the use of farm machinery and raising public awatreness of the issues.

With an estimated 2,500 non-fatal accidents causing serious injury on farms annually, Teagasc places a major focus on safety at various events each year.

The need for viglance on all farms was the focus of numerous ehibitiors at the ploughing championships and and the subject of various appeals and statements.

All involved in the farming community were again advised to manage safety and health as an essential part of their farm business.

The clear message was that one accident is one always too many.

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