Farm safety: An unacceptable death toll

A cultural shift is needed within agriculture and this is being encouraged through a farm safety awareness initiative

Life on farms is almost 50 per cent more dangerous than working in the construction sector. Photograph: Frank Miller

Life on farms is almost 50 per cent more dangerous than working in the construction sector. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Twenty lives were lost on Irish farms last year and one of the victims was a child. It’s an appalling figure – so bad that farming organisations are co-operating with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) in supporting unannounced farm inspections. Behind the headline deaths, there are an additional 2,500 non-fatal incidents that have the capacity to visit physical and financial ruin on many farmers. In spite of publicity campaigns emphasising the dangers of certain machinery and the need to employ safety features, the death toll on farms has remained practically unchanged for the past six years. In 2011, 22 people died there; this dropped to 16 in 2013; rose to 30 in 2014 and stood at 20 last year. Those most at risk were farmers in the 45-64 age bracket. Children were also extremely vulnerable because farms are homes as well as workplaces.

Ireland is not alone in having a high farming mortality rate. But deaths do exceed the European average. A majority of these deaths and injuries are predictable because they arise from risky farming behaviour. They are therefore preventable. Changing such dangerous practices may require a more robust, intrusive approach by the HSA, involving prosecutions, if the attrition rate on farmers is to be reduced. The number of deaths on our roads fell rapidly following strict police enforcement and prosecutions.

A less intrusive approach to safety on farms cannot be justified on the grounds that they are also domestic spaces. Because of the extremely high fatality rate, stricter standards should apply. Farms represent some 6 per cent of Irish workplaces yet 40 per cent of all deaths occur there. Life on farms is almost 50 per cent more dangerous than working in the construction sector, where safety inspections have become much more intrusive in recent decades. Dairy and livestock farmers are most at risk. A cultural shift is needed within agriculture and this is being encouraged through a farm safety awareness initiative. Additional farm inspections will also be required.

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