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Behaviour and Age Leading to Farm Death Rise

A combination of farmer behaviours and ageing profile of the farm population are leading to the rising trend in farm deaths. This is a main finding of a long term geo-demographic study jointly conducted by Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr David Meredith of Teagasc’s Rural Economy Development Programme stated that the study has examined farm workplace death patterns since 1993 in relation to population, geography, primary causes of fatalities and the timing of deaths. The overall aim of the research is to uncover trends that will be of assistance in cutting the farm death toll.

Dr Meredith noted that whilst the average number of deaths was 18 per year between 1993 and 2013, in four of the last five years farm deaths have been substantially higher than this average. In 2014 there were 30 deaths, and in three of the remaining years the number of deaths was greater than 20 per annum.

Dr Meredith stated that “Whilst age is not a primary cause of fatalities it does help explain some of the trends that have become more prominent in recent years. Fatalities amongst the population of farmers under 45 years of age since 2009 are below the long run average. In stark contrast to this, deaths amongst farmers between 45 and 64 years of age are 57% above the long run average for this group. This is the equivalent of three extra deaths per year of farmers in this age group. This trend is thought to be associated with an increase in the number of farmers in this age group resulting from large numbers returning to farming following the collapse of the construction sector.”

The Teagasc researcher stated that fatal farm accident data also indicates a strong behavioural dimension to farm workplace deaths particularly those associated with tractors and machinery, livestock and falls particularly from heights. “The data indicate that accidents become increasingly lethal with increasing age. This highlights the importance of forming habits of safe behaviours at an early age and maintaining these habits as age increases”, he added.

Teagasc National Health and Safety Officer, Mr John McNamara, who collaborated in the study, stated that its findings are in line with international trends which indicate that safety behaviour is a factor in 90 % of accidents and that farm death rates increase with increasing age, particularly from 45 years of age onwards.

Mr McNamara called on farmers to ensure that tractors and farm vehicles are securely parked and that the safety of all persons who have access to farmyards is considered. He gave this advice as 60% of farm deaths in 2014 were associated with moving farm vehicles and machines resulting in lethal crushes and blows.

Mr Patrick Griffin, Senior Inspector in charge of the agriculture sector at the Health and Safety Authority thanked Teagasc for conducting the research leading to the latest findings from the geo-demographic study as it provides new knowledge to assist with accident prevention in the farming sector.