Agriculture workers most at risk of fatal injury, study finds

People employed in farming, fisheries or forestry are 24 times more likely to die in work-related accidents than those in service industries, a new study shows.

Ireland had the highest agricultural fatality rate among nine EU countries studied, according to a report launched yesterday by the Economic Social and Research Institute.

As the economy improves, accidents and work-related illnesses are likely to rise just as they did in the boom period, say ESRI researchers.

The study reveals that shift workers and those working at night had a significantly higher risk of work-related injury and illness, even compared to others working in the same sector.

An average of 47 people lost their lives while at work in each of the years between 2004 and 2013. Over this period, the risk of fatal injury was dramatically higher — 24 times — for those in the agricultural sector (farming, fishing and forestry) compared to workers in the services sector.

Workers in construction also had much higher risks of fatal injury than service sector workers. The risk of death was eight times higher for those in the construction sector and three times higher for industry.

Between 2004 and 2013, there was a significant decline in fatalities among those working in the services sector but fatalities in the agricultural sector increased.

Younger workers have the highest risk of injury as the likelihood of injury declines with age. Men experience a much higher risk of work- related injury than women even when they are in the same sector and occupational group, and work the same hours.

Helen Russell, one of the report authors noted: “Without additional efforts to prevent injuries and illness, from both employers and the state, the rates of work- related injury and illness are likely to increase with economic recovery”.

At the launch yesterday by minister of state Ged Nash, Martin O’Halloran, CEO of the Health and Safety Authority, said: “As the economy continues to emerge from the recession and companies grow, it’s vital that employers are mindful of the increased risk to new recruits and inexperienced workers. Effective induction and training programmes for new staff will help minimise that risk”.

Work-related injuries affected an average of 47,000 workers in Ireland each year between 2001 and 2012 while an average of 48,000 suffered from a work-related illness.

The risk of both injury and illness rose in the boom period (2001-07) and fell during the recession (2008-12).

Similar results have been found in UK and US studies and have been attributed to the rise in the proportion of inexperienced new recruits during periods of economic growth.

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