Farm safety checks fall by a third

The number of health and safety inspections on farms has fallen by more than a third in just two years despite a worrying rise in farm deaths.

Farm safety checks fall by a third

Figures from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) show 1,949 visits were conducted by inspectors last year, of which the vast majority were on farms. About 100 visits to fishing and forestry sites were conducted.

That compares to 2,308 farm visits in 2016 and 3,056 in 2015.

The number of visits made by inspectors to workplaces across all sectors has also fallen over the past three years, though not to the same extent, slipping from 10,880 in 2015 to 10,453 the following year and 9,925 last year.

Across all employment sectors, 9,846 enforcement actions were implemented, of which 2,015 related to agriculture, forestry and fishing. A HSA spokesman said the vast majority of those related to farms.

Verbal advice was offered in just over 1,000 cases and written advice provided with regard to 746 farm inspections. Improvement notices were issued over 150 farm inspection and prohibition notices issued 88 times last year.

The number of inspections on farms has come under scrutiny in recent years given the high rate of deaths on farms. Of 47 fatal workplace injuries last year, 24 were farm-related.

It was also the second highest annual tally for farm deaths in the past decade, topped only by the 2014 total of 30.

The HSA’s own analysis found the fatality rate in agriculture is far higher than in any other sector and that a large proportion of all fatal workplace accidents take place in agriculture, even though a small proportion of the workforce is employed in farming.

Analysing data on farm deaths from 2007 to 2016, the HSA said the level of farm accidents was not decreasing, farmers’ attitudes to safety only change after a serious injury occurs, and that the old and young were particularly vulnerable.

Despite the fall in farm inspections, the HSA said it was dedicating significant resources to ensuring greater levels of safety in the agricultural sector.

A HSA spokesman said: “We are focusing roughly 20% of our overall inspection resources on the agricultural sector each year.

“Another area of activity that is not captured [in the figures] as an inspection record is our engagement with knowledge transfer schemes and farm walks. We were involved in over 100 of them during 2017, so we reached a further 2,000 farmers through those engagements.

“Inspection and enforcement is an important part of the overall mix with roughly 100,000 plus people directly involved in farming, we feel that engaging with multiple farmers at the same time through knowledge transfer schemes can be an efficient way for an inspector to communicate with farmers.”

However, Brian Rohan, co-founder of the Embrace Farm Accident Support Network group, said he was unsure if the knowledge transfer groups worked for all farmers in light of the high number of deaths.

“Is it working or not?” he said. “The figures say no, but had they done another 2,000 inspections would the figures have been the same?”

Mr Rohan, whose father died in a farming accident in 2012, said he received a HSA inspection in 2016 and believed he had worked in an even safer manner since.

However, he said farms were getting bigger and busier, with the drive to create better productivity meaning more workplace pressures.

He said many younger farmers had taken on large debts and some could not afford to hire help.

He said he referred in talks to milk producers taking the produce and banks lending money, but farmers not making provision to protect their families if they were to be involved in an accident.

He said accidents on quad bikes needed to be curtailed, saying compulsory training should be considered.

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