Concerns over rise in farm deaths as workload intensifies

HSA chief suggests ‘zero tolerance’ policy on exposing children to risk

Prof Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc and Martin O’Halloran, chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority at the National Conference on Farm Safety and Health in Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Prof Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc and Martin O’Halloran, chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority at the National Conference on Farm Safety and Health in Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 01:00

Farm accidents have killed some 20 people this year but farmers have been warned this could rise as enterprises expand when milk quotas are lifted next spring.

Teagasc director Prof Gerry Boyle said the increase in farm deaths was already of huge concern. Rushing to get work done was often cited as a reason for accidents and he said the ending of the milk quota system next year could increase pressure on farmers.

“We now need to put in place, as part and parcel of that expansion plan, a parallel plan that stresses the importance of health and safety.”

He was speaking at a conference in Kilkenny on farm safety which addressed the deaths of four children this year. Health and Safety Authority chief executive Martin O’Halloran said the idea of zero tolerance of children in parts of the farm should be explored.

Older farmers

He also said eight of this year’s deaths involved farmers who were over 60.

IFA president Eddie Downey said asking an older farmer to retire from farm work was akin to asking someone to stop going to GAA matches. He urged farmers of all ages to find “wise ways to work”.

The conference was organised by the Health and Safety Authority, Teagasc and the Farm Safety Partnership, and attended by leaders of the main farm organisations. Concern was expressed at the jump in farm deaths from 16 for the whole of last year to 20 in less than eight months this year.

Mr O’Halloran said years of highlighting the dangers of unguarded PTO (power-take-off) shafts had paid off and it was rare to find an unguarded PTO now. “So should there be zero tolerance situations where children are on farms?” he asked.

Children driving tractors

“There may be some areas where there may have to be very clinically focused aspects of zero tolerance, so that should be explored.”

One audience member said it was disgraceful children were allowed to use farm machinery. “I know farmers who blow their trumpets about their five-year-olds driving tractors and using diggers,” he said.

But Brian Rohan of the Embrace Farm support group said children would have no interest in farming if kept away until they were teenagers.

The farm “is a wonderful place to bring children up on, provided they are looked after 100 per cent of the time,” he said. “I can remember driving a Massey 188 when I was 12 and Dad giving out to me for having one hand on the steering wheel and looking at him instead of looking where I was going.”

His father Liam was killed in a farm accident in Co Laois two years ago. He had been dismantling a machine when a part fell and hit him on the head.

Mr Rohan and his wife Norma set up the Embrace Farm support group for families affected by farm deaths and accidents. He said farm safety had to start with children who had to “put pressure on the parents because the 50- or 60- or 70-year-old farmer who has been taking risks . . . and getting away with it, are set in their mind and won’t change.”

His group (embracefarm.com) is meeting in Abbeyleix next Wednesday.

Dr Denis O’Hora of NUI Galway’s School of Psychology said near-misses in farming should be collated confidentially. “We could learn from farmers.”