Authorities call for ‘cultural change’ on farm safety

Plan to reduce deaths includes ‘knowledge transfer’ visits for groups of farmers

Of the 14 incidents on Irish farms last year in which men aged over 65 were killed, many involved farm machinery. Photograph: Getty Images

A huge “cultural change” is needed in response to the number of workplace farm deaths, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has said.

The authority said agriculture represented just 6 per cent of the workforce in 2017 but accounted for 51 per cent of workplace deaths.

Of the 47 people killed in workplaces in 2017, 24 died in incidents on farms. Of those 24, 14 deaths were of men aged over 65.

The 10-year average number killed annually is 21.


In response to the statistics the HSA, farm advisory service Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture have determined that large-scale cultural change needs to take place.

A HSA spokesman said the department had proposed “knowledge transfer” groups where the pitfalls of farm safety could be discussed by groups of farmers on individual farms.

“While the HSA recognises the importance of farm inspections research shows that peer-to-peer learning does lead to sustainable improvements in safety,” the spokesman said. “We are looking for a sustained reduction in accidents and this can only happen if there is a culture of safety ingrained into the industry.”

He added: “Our aim is to bring about a change of culture. This is the best way that a sustained improvement in farm safety standards can be achieved.”

Safety campaigns

The spokesman said farm deaths used to be comparable with workplace deaths in the building industry but safety campaigns in that sector in the 1990s had created a culture “where safety is now the norm rather than the exception”. “This must happen in agriculture,” he added.

“The sector must lead and we are seeing signs that this is happening – we have seen increased engagement on this issue by farm leaders over the last number of years – so awareness is high. Turning awareness into behaviour is the challenge and we believe that the mix of inspection, promotion and peer-to-peer learning is the correct approach.”

The Irish Farmers’ Association is also focused on farm safety and next month the organisation’s annual farm safety week (July 16th-20th) will focus on how to make things go right.

“It will share good practice and demonstrate what ‘good’ looks like in relation to working practices on the farm,” an IFA spokeswoman said.

HSA inspector Martina Gormley noted of the 14 incidents last year in which men aged over 65 were killed, many involved farm machinery.

She said some elderly people found they could no longer climb into a tractor so instead they drove a quad bike – often with disastrous results. “There is no requirement, as there is in some other countries, to do a proficiency test in many of these farm machines,” she said.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist