The Health and Safety Authority has launched a new website featuring farmers who tell how accidents affected their families and friends.
Senior inspector Pat Griffin said: “These farmers have bravely told their stories so that others can learn from their experiences and avoid the same fate.” Prepared with the assistance of the Farm Safety Partnership and Macra Na Feirme, Survivor Stories is available on DVD.
Their stories can also be viewed at hsa.ie/farmaccidents, youtube.com/user/farmaccidents, and on the Farm Accidents Facebook page.
It is the HSA’s latest attempt to reduce the shocking toll of fatal and serious accidents in agriculture.
During 2010 and 2011, 48 people died on farms. Cork is a particular blackspot, and 58% of fatal accidents are on dairy farms. Griffin says 13,250 safety inspections will be carried out by the authority in 2012, 3,000 of them on farms.
* Apparently Ireland is not worst in the EU for accidents on farms. What countries are worse?
>>Ireland is generally one of the better performing of the 27 EU countries. Rankings fluctuate, but the UK is generally No 1, with Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark also among the best. One of the problem countries is Germany, strangely enough. There are about 12 deaths per 100,000 in agriculture across the EU. It’s eight or nine deaths in the best countries like the UK, about 15 or 16 in Ireland, but often up to 30 in Germany.
It’s really strange, but a lot of farm labourers in Germany are immigrants from Poland or Turkey. Maybe there is less care and attention for them than there should be. Germany, Spain and Greece usually rank worst.
We have a way to go here in Ireland to be the best. But I think we can do it, we have the network and the knowledge and momentum to develop a farm safety culture.
* How have Scandinavian countries successfully reduced farm deaths?
>> Some of these countries have occupational health insurance schemes, which pay farmers if they have accidents, and so a lot of work goes into prevention, in order to minimise payouts.
There are a lot of training courses for farmers, they have been working on farm safety for a long time.
A lot of farm work is done by employees in these countries, and we find where that exists, a lot more work goes into preventing accidents, because of the serious consequences for employers, although that is not the case in Germany.
* How does the safe pass system in construction and other industries work?
>> In construction, we tackled three major areas. We used very rigorous inspection and enforcement, and issued a lot of enforcement notices and closure orders. Ten to 20 major companies cover 90% of the construction industry, whereas farmers are all individuals. Everyone on a building site has to do the one-day safe pass safety training. Only those with certified training can operate a construction vehicle. In contrast, on farms, it is very difficult to issue closure orders.
We haven’t brought in any mandatory machinery training scheme for farmers, although it makes sense on the face of it, because 50% of farm deaths involve tractors.
* What proportion of farmers will see the Survivor Stories DVD?
>>It’s very hard to say. It’s on YouTube and the internet for easy availability, but is primarily designed for farmers’ meetings. It is also on Farm TV in the marts.
There were 7,500 hits in the first two weeks, and there is a lot of media coverage. The whole approach is to get people talking about farm safety.
Awareness of farm safety is very high, about 80%, but action by farmers is slower, until they are contacted by a regulator, in which case they are generally very co-operative and put things right quickly.
They think they are too busy and put things on the long finger because they are under pressure, But the pressure is even worse if they have to give up farm work due to an accident.
Everyone thinks their own farm is safe, but the only way to be really safe is to be proactive about it every day.
* What advice for part-time farmers who work long hours?
>>If they have to do a day’s work in a few hours, they should look at their efficiency and time management. It’s critical they have systems well set up.
Farmers upscaling herds now should take their time, plan it well and not put themselves under too much pressure. The busier the farmer, the more likely an accident.
Our code of practice is available at farmsafely.com.
* What advice for farmers who can’t afford modern machinery and facilities?
>> Safety doesn’t cost a fortune. Talk to farmers who had inspections, and they will tell you a lot of the changes were at no cost, like rearranging the farmyard, one-way systems, eliminating hazards, tidying up, yard rules for children.
PTO shafts cost money, but it’s well spent, to reduce the risk of death to zero.
Farmers with cows should have proper calving units with holding gates.
* Is the HSA under severe pressure to reduce fatal and serious accidents in agriculture? How successful has the HSA been in other sectors?
>> The HSA has a good record across the general population, but is very concerned about workers in a few sectors such as farming, fishing and transport. These are particularly difficult, because so many in these sectors are self-employed.
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