Questions and issues of the week: Rising number of farm deaths

More than 200 people, including 25 minors, have died on Irish farms in the past decade

Behind every statistic is a tragedy for the victim’s family and community. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Behind every statistic is a tragedy for the victim’s family and community. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

The death of 14-year-old Dónal English-Hayden on a farm in Carlow this week was the 11th such fatality to occur on an Irish farm this year, among them three children.

More than 200 people, including 25 children aged 17 or under, have lost their lives on Irish farms in the past decade.

Despite numerous safety initiatives, including media campaigns, discussion groups, school awareness programmes, the introduction of the Farm Safety Code of Practice, and thousands of farm inspections carried out each year the number of deaths remains stubbornly high.

Last year marked the highest number of fatalities on Irish farms in the past two decades: 30 people lost their lives in 2014.

Workplace deaths on farms stood at 15.9 per 100,000 population in 2013, compared with an average of 2.1 fatalities per 100,000 in the general working population, according to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). A contributing factor is that farms are not just places of work but are also homes where people, including children, live and visit.

So what, if anything, can be done to reduce the number of farm deaths? Dr David Meredith, a senior research officer in Teagasc’s Rural Economy Development Programme, is part of a team which aims to reduce farm deaths through the collection and analysis of accident data.

Using information provided by the HSA, Teagasc has collected 20 years of data on the number and cause of farm fatalities, the age profile of the victims and the time of year at which the accidents occurred.

In recent years it has also started capturing information on weather conditions, which Dr Meredith says are often a contributing factor in farm deaths, the time of day at which accidents occur, as well as giving consideration to the varying length of a farmer’s working day and how stress can contribute to the likelihood of accidents occurring.

“There’s a lot that we don’t know but we are making attempts at capturing this information,” he says.

Behind every statistic is a tragedy for the victim’s family and community. “The reality is that you’re talking about people who have died . . . what we are trying to do is to reduce that number.”

The HSA urges those working on farms to carry a mobile phone at all times, to take care when maintaining equipment and when moving round bales and to wear hi-vis clothing and appropriate footwear at all times.

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