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Culture Change a Key Driver of Farm Safety

Safety culture refers to the way workplace safety is managed and represents a combination of attitudes and beliefs, perceptions, values, competencies, and patterns of safety behaviour by all in a workplace. Dr John McNamara, Health and Safety Specialist, discusses the importance of safety culture.

Safety Culture is an important contributor to farm safety behaviour, but its development has received limited attention. The concept of safety culture is typically applied to well-structured and regulated working environments like industry. However, it can also be applied to smaller semi-independent entities like farms. In this case it refers to the behaviour, attitudes, norms and practices of the community of farmers, which can influence an individual farmer’s safety behaviour.

Having a good farm safety culture brings better safety risk management, better farm management and farmer welfare. A Scottish study on environmental management showed that culture can be enhanced by sharing of information and raising the visibility of individual beneficial farmer practices.

To gain knowledge on safety culture among European farmers, a working group of the recent EU COST Action SACURIMA took on the task of developing and pilot-testing a reliable and valid farm safety culture measure. This measured farmer safety behaviour and its determinants based on a state-of-the-art integrated conceptual model of health and safety.

Development of the farm safety culture measurement tool was led by eminent psychology Professor Stephan van den Broucke,UCL, Belgium In total of 1,642 farmers from 12 European countries used the farm safety culture measurement tool, including 226 Irish participants using convenience sampling.  

Mean scores for four farm safety behaviours involved in high levels farm workplace injuries were measured including: fall from height, machine, chemical & pesticide and animal handling injury prevention. A 5-point scale was used to measure behaviours with a score of 5 being the best outcome.

Study findings

Notably, the study found that Irish survey responses were consistent with the pan- European data, however, the Irish data gave a higher (4.57) score for livestock handling than the European data (4.23). Overall both the pan-European and Irish scores for both machine safety (3.76) and fall prevention (3.90) were lower than for chemicals/ pesticide and animal handling. This finding indicates that that farmers in Ireland and across Europe give these safety issues lower attention.     

Table 1: Mean Scores for four Safety Behaviours – Ireland (N=226) and European (N=1642/ data from 12 countries)


Machine Safety

 Fall Prevention

Chemical and Pesticide Handling 

Animal Handling






Total European





Commenting on the findings Dr McNamara stated that ‘Irish farm fatal workplace data consistently shows that machine injuries and falls from heights account for about 48% and 10% of fatal injuries. This study indicates that these aspects of farm safety management, particularly, need greater attention by both Irish and European farmers’.

SACURIMA is the acronym for EU COST Action Safety Culture and Risk Management in Agriculture. The final Report of this action is available at https://www.sacurima.eu/.

Irish representative on EU COST Action SACURIMA were Dr John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Specialist (Vice Chair) and Mr Pat Griffin Senior Inspector, Health and Safety Authority (Communications Manager).