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Farm Fatality Levels Shift to ‘Younger’ Working Farmers

Teagasc has called on all farm families to give farm safety and health the utmost attention as the busy summer season approaches. Teagasc Health and Safety Officer, John McNamara made the call against a background of a significant increase in farm injury related deaths; 11 deaths have occurred on Irish farms to date in 2010, the same number as for all of 2009. He also revealed a major shift in the demographic pattern of farm workplace deaths.

Mr. McNamara was speaking at the inaugural meeting of the IOSH (Institution of Occupational Health and Safety) rural sector group in Ireland which is taking place at Teagasc Kildalton College, County Kilkenny today, 11 May. The meeting is being held in conjunction with the Health and Safety Authority, Teagasc and the IOSH south-east district.

The Teagasc Health and Safety Officer, who is a chartered member of IOSH, said that a major shift in the demographic pattern of fatal farm accidents has taken place since 2008, with just 12 per cent occurring to victims over the age of 65 compared to 41 per cent for the previous seven-year period. Seventy-six per cent of farm fatal accidents have occurred to persons in the 17 – 65 age category with 37 per cent to those in the 46 – 65 age category.

A significant shift has also taken place in the cause of accidents since 2008, with incidents resulting from tractor or machine contact now accounting for 59 per cent of deaths and a further 15 per cent associated with tree felling or timber cutting. This compares with 44 per cent and three per cent, respectively, for tractors/machinery and timber related deaths for the previous seven years.

A leading specialist in health and safety in the UK, Dr David Knowles, speaking on behalf of the IOSH rural industries group, commented on the much lower farm fatal accident rate in the UK of nine per 100,000 persons employed in the sector, compared to a figure of 15 for Ireland. However, he said that a clear distinction must be drawn between large-scale ‘estate-type’ UK farms where an ‘employer - employee relationship’ exists and a fatal accident rate of about six per 100,000 workers occurs, and ‘self-employed’ farms, similar to Ireland, with a rate of 16 per 100,000.

Dr Knowles stated that the health and safety challenge in both the UK and Ireland is mainly how to convince self-employed farmers to be more engaged with managing safety and health. He praised the Code of Practice approach in place in Ireland commenting that ‘it seems a fantastic tool to manage health and safety’ particularly as it is backed up by highly professional training and advice from Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority.

Pat Griffin, Senior HSA inspector with responsibility for the agriculture sector, pointed to the need for farmers to change their culture, of accepting horrendous injury and ill health as part and parcel of the job, as the key driver to improving the record of the sector. Every farmer needs to recognise that at any time a serious accident could happen on their farm to themselves or a family member. Farmers must give safety and health the time and attention it needs and take early appropriate preventative action, he stated.

Bruce Phillips, chairperson of IOSH in Ireland, who is a horticultural science graduate and assistant area manager with Dublin City Council, praised the work of the Health and Safety Authority, Teagasc and the Farm Safety Partnership related to farm health and safety. Norita Robinson, development manager in Ireland, stated that IOSH members wished to assist the farming community to achieve ‘safe, healthy and sustainable’ workplaces in accordance with the IOSH Vision.