Number of farm deaths on rise despite extra focus on safety

Two children died in farm-related accidents over the Bank Holiday weekend

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney urged farmers to see their workplace through their children’s eyes on National Farm Safety Awareness Day.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney urged farmers to see their workplace through their children’s eyes on National Farm Safety Awareness Day.

 

There has never been a greater emphasis on farm safety, yet this is turning out to be a very dark year for farm deaths. Some 17 people have died in farm accidents this year - one more than in the whole year of 2013. The Bank Holiday weekend marked a particular low, with two children dying in farm-related accidents.

On Sunday a five-year-old boy died after he was struck by a tractor on a farm near Ferbane in Co Offaly. On Friday, a three-year-old boy lost his life when he was struck by a mechanical digger on a farm near Drimoleague, Co Cork.

And just over a week earlier, Offaly Under-21 hurling manager Dermot Hogan died after falling through the roof of a shed he was painting on the family farm at Coolderry.

The deaths came after a renewed focus on farm safety. The Irish Farmers’ Association held the first National Farm Safety Awareness Day with the Health and Safety Authority late last month and called on all farmers to take time to review safety on their farms.

A few weeks earlier, Brian and Norma Rohan held the first remembrance service for victims of farm accidents, in Abbeyleix, Co Laois. They set up the Embrace Farm support group for families bereaved by farm accidents after Brian Rohan’s father, Liam, was killed in an accident two years ago.

According to Martin O’Halloran, chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority, the rate of fatal and serious accidents on farms is disproportionately high when you consider the numbers employed. It is the State’s most dangerous occupation and children and older people are particularly at risk.

So why are people still dying in farm accidents when awareness has never been higher?

Teagasc health and safety officer John McNamara says people may hear about the risks but it is very difficult to get them to change the behaviour of a lifetime.

He says familiarity with machinery is a key factor in the rise in accidents. Because farmers use tractors and heavy machinery every day, they don’t see the risks involved, whereas they are more conscious of risks of, say, airplane crashes or nuclear explosions. That is borne out by the figures which show that tractors and vehicles accounted for almost half of farm deaths since 2004.

“We’ve seen a lot of cases where people are getting struck by vehicles, particularly tractors, in farm yards,” he says. “There have been many falls from heights and deaths from slurry gases too.” And the summer holidays mean that children are around the farm yard much more. On National Farm Safety Awareness Day, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney urged farmers to see their workplace through their children’s eyes. “A farmyard can seem like a playground to a child’s eyes particularly during the summer holiday months. However, children can’t be expected to anticipate the dangers of playing there. Therefore, parents need to see these dangers and set ground rules for children on farms.”

IFA president Eddie Downey says heavy workloads are also a factor as farmers rush to get the work done before the rain comes. In the heat of the moment, farmers may take risks that they wouldn’t normally take. “Being tired, distracted and stressed is often a reality on busy farms and every effort must be made to avoid shortcuts. At the peak of this busy summer season on farms, safety must come first,” he says.

Research has found that, in general, farmers’ attitudes to safety only change after serious injury occurs. But that’s too late for the hundreds of farm families bereaved by these accidents.