The Irish Times view on farm safety: the most dangerous job

Deaths on Irish farms make up more than half of all workplace fatalities

Only 6 per cent of the workforce is employed in agriculture and yet half of all occupational fatalities occur there. Photograph: Frank Miller

Only 6 per cent of the workforce is employed in agriculture and yet half of all occupational fatalities occur there. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Agriculture is the most dangerous occupation in the State. For every fatality in the sector – they make up more than half of all workplace deaths – more than 125 farm workers are injured, many of them so seriously that the viability of the farm is undermined. These terrible and largely hidden figures have remained constant for the past decade, despite legal requirements, awareness-raising events and inspections by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). More assertive action is required.

Twenty-four people died on farms last year. More than half were over 65 years of age

Twenty years ago, fatality rates in the construction and agricultural sectors were broadly similar. Now they are markedly different. The variation can be accounted for by intrusive inspection of building sites by the HSA, followed by prosecutions where safety standards are breached. Today, workplace safety in the construction industry is actively promoted, to the extent of protecting employees against skin cancer. Farmers have not been subjected to such rigorous standards.

Risky farming practices include not checking that machinery is in good working order before use, according to a report by the Economic and Social Research Institute. File photograph: Bloomberg
Risky farming practices include not checking that machinery is in good working order before use, according to a report by the Economic and Social Research Institute. File photograph: Bloomberg

Dreadful statistics

Only 6 per cent of the workforce is employed in agriculture and yet half of all occupational fatalities occur there. These are dreadful statistics. They cloak the human tragedies of lost husbands, wives, sons and daughters and the ripping apart of family life. Farm deaths are not confined to incidents involving tractors, power shafts or livestock, although these have been the traditional vectors. Increasingly, quad bikes driven by elderly farmers over uneven ground have proved lethal. Joan Kinane died in a crash while driving a ride-on lawnmower at her farm in Tipperary at the weekend.

Twenty-four people died on farms last year. More than half were over 65 years of age. A further 2,500 people were injured, many of them seriously. Revised safety protocols have been issued and peer-to-peer learning is being promoted. But the number of farm inspections has fallen as non-lethal farm accidents have increased. An analysis by Teagasc found a rise of 31 per cent had occured during the past decade. That is intolerable. More inspections and prosecutions are required.

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