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Estimating farm accident levels in Ireland

Data collected by the Teagasc National Farm Survey examines the prevalence of farm accidents in Ireland. Consistent data collection helps provide realistic estimates, which further helps inform the most relevant safety practices.

TResearch Autumn 2023

The Teagasc National Farm Survey (NFS) has been conducting farm accident surveys in Ireland for 30 years. The data collected provides farmers, policy- makers and health and safety advisors with estimates of farm accident levels to assist with the design of farm safety initiatives. 

Earlier iterations of the surveys probed accident incidence using a five-year recall — i.e. farmers were asked whether there had been an accident on their farm in the previous five years. In the most recent survey, reported in 2022 for year 2020, this approach was modified whereby farmers were asked to recall if any accidents had occurred on their farm in the previous year.

A change in methodology

In 2020, 5% of respondents reported an accident having caused injury to them or someone else on their farm. This is reflective of approximately 4,500 farm accidents nationally (see Figure 1). Charted against previous years’ surveys, the prevalence of farm accidents in 2020 may seem to have increased. However, the change in methodology regarding years of recall should be borne in mind, explains Senior Health and Safety Specialist Advisor John McNamara: “With longer recall periods – e.g. five years – people tend to recall only the more serious accidents. Conversely, with shorter recall periods people can remember a wider spread of both minor and major accidents.”

Data collected through the NFS not only quantifies the prevalence of farm accidents, but also their types (as shown in Figure 2). Data from 2020 indicates that almost half of all farm accidents involved livestock (47%) with close to one-third (29%) as a consequence of trips, falls or blows. In a further 11% of cases the use of farm vehicles or machinery were contributory factors. A further 10% related to other causes, with 2% involving farm buildings.

“Compared to 2017, the data from 2020 indicates an increase in the proportion of accidents involving livestock, and trips, falls and blows, up 5% and 16% respectively,” explains John. “On the other hand, we can see a reduction in the level of accidents involving machinery, down 14%, and buildings, down 4%.”

Data from 2020 indicates that a majority of on-farm accidents (89%) involved family members. According to respondents, 80% of the accidents involved the farmer themselves, with 8% involving another family member and 1% the spouse. The remaining proportion of accidents involved farm workers (1%) and unspecified others (9%).

In addition to the type of accident recorded, information on the location of the accident is also collected. According to the 2020 survey, 52% of farm accidents occurred in the farmyard, with a further 26% taking place in farm buildings. One in ten accidents were in fields, with 1% on farm roadways or lanes.

Risk of labour loss

As noted, most accidents involve farmers themselves, mostly occurring in farmyards or farm buildings. Whilst it’s reassuring to see fewer accidents involving other persons and occurring further afield, the severity of reported accidents will require continued scrutiny.

As John explains: “Of accidents recalled from 2020, 80% required medical treatment according to the survey, with 46% of victims attending a hospital, a further 18% a doctor and 16% requiring first aid.” Notably, he adds: “Additional data from the NFS collected in 2021 indicated that almost four in ten farmers do not have replacement labour in the event of them being unable to work due to illness.”

In terms of those who indicated the time lost as a result of farm accidents in 2020, 22% indicated no work time lost. The highest proportion of respondents (32%) stated they were unable to work for between one and three days. Twenty one percent reported a work time loss period of between four and ten days. Two percent and four percent of accidents respectively resulted in a loss of time worked of between 11 and 30 days and 31-60 days, while 19% were unable to work for more than 61 days.

Although farm accident numbers for 2020 may appear to have increased, the adjusted methodology from five-year to single-year recall accounts for some of this shift. A change in proportions for accident type shows a positive trend in those involving machinery – decreased by 14% since the previous survey. However, trips and falls and accidents involving livestock – did increase proportionately, possibly related to ‘hurrying’ and livestock number changes.

An area of concern relates to loss of work time, 32% of respondents lost between one and three days of work time, and almost 40% signalled that they had no replacement labour available. “Hopefully, continued surveys and data collection can inform policy and safety initiatives towards mitigating this risk,” says John. “Shortening the recall period used for the Teagasc National Farm Survey may help prevent underreporting of accidents deemed as minor, and thus draw attention to a broader intersection of accident types.”

Further information

Complete findings of the NFS farm accident survey 2021 can be found at: https://www.teagasc.ie/rural-economy/farm-management/farm-health--safety/


The voluntary participation of farmers in the Teagasc National Farm Survey is gratefully acknowledged, as is the contribution of Teagasc research staff involved in the collection, validation and administration of the survey.


John McNamara, Senior Health and Safety Specialist Advisor, Knowledge Transfer Outreach and Innovation Dept, Knowledge Transfer Directorate, Teagasc. Email: johng.mcnamara@teagasc.ie

Emma Dillon, Senior Research Officer, Agricultural Economics & Farm Surveys, Rural Economy & Development Programme, Teagasc.

Brian Moran, National Farm Survey Team Lead, Agricultural Economics & Farm Surveys, Rural Economy & Development Programme, Teagasc.

Figure 1: Farm Accidents 2001-2022* (year reported). 2001-2017: 5-year recall; 2022:-1-year recall. *Data reported in 2022 for 2020. Source: Teagasc National Farm Survey.

Figure 2: Farm Accident types 2001-2022* (year reported)

*Data reported in 2022 for 2020. Source: Teagasc National Farm Survey

[pic credit] SolStock / istockphoto.com