Elderly farmer deaths prompt remarkable fatality figures for 2014

Ex-construction workers returning to farming particularly at risk, research shows

Research conducted by Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority has revealed a marked increase in the incidence of farm deaths over the last five years. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Research conducted by Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority has revealed a marked increase in the incidence of farm deaths over the last five years. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Older farmers are accounting for a disproportionate amount of farm-related fatalities, particularly those who have returned to an agricultural setting following the economic crash.

Research conducted by Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority has revealed a marked increase in the incidence of farm deaths over the last five years, culminating in one of the worst years on record in 2014.

The results, which account for the two decades between 1993 and 2014, illustrate how farmers aged under 45 are considerably less likely to suffer catastrophic injuries in the course of their work than elderly counterparts.

According to the project’s lead researcher, Dr David Meredith, a combination of changing behavioural attitudes and an aging farming population have ultimately contributed to a peak of 30 deaths on farms last year.

“Fatalities amongst the population of farmers under 45 years of age since 2009 are below the long run average,” said Dr Meredith.

“In stark contrast to this, deaths among farmers between 45 and 64 years of age are 57 per cent above the long-run average for this group. This is the equivalent of three extra deaths per year of farmers in this age group,” he added.

By analysing the available data, the NUI Maynooth PhD student was able to identify an increased risk posed for former construction workers returning to an agricultural environment.

Stark picture

“This trend is thought to be associated with an increase in the number of farmers in this age group, resulting from large numbers returning to farming following the collapse of the construction sector,” he said.

His findings paint a stark picture for those aged 65 and over, who are almost three times more likely to perish in farm-related incidents than the State’s population structure would suggest. Over 45s are also at increased risk, as are children.

A statistical breakdown on causes of death demonstrates how farmers of pensionable age are more likely to die from falls than any other age demographic. More than 40 per cent of child fatalities are caused by accidents involving tractors or vehicles – the largest percentage cause of death among any age group.

Commenting on the report, Teagasc national health and safety officer John McNamara called on farmers to ensure that tractors and vehicles are securely parked, given that 60 per cent of farm deaths last year were associated with machinery.

Irish Farmers Association president Eddie Downey stated recently that longer working hours caused by a lack of profits have exposed members of his organisation to greater risk, a point echoed by Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association president Patrick Kent on Friday.