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Farmer discussion increases capacity to work in a safe and healthy way

Farmer discussion has considerable potential to increase farmers’ intentions to adopt farm health and safety practices. This was the overall finding of a major study by Dr Tracey O’ Connor, a recent doctoral Teagasc Walsh Scholar sponsored jointly by Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority.

Farmer discussion increases capacity to work in a safe and healthy way

Farmers are invited to a Zoom Webinar where Dr O’Connor, along with her research supervisors, will outline the study findings on Thursday, 26 November at 12.00 noon -1.30pm. See https://teagasc.ie/news--events/national- events/events/farmhealthsafetywebinar.php  for the full programme for the webinar and to register.

Farm Discussion groups meet regularly on farms with their advisor to discuss current farm management topics. Teagasc facilitates about 800 discussion groups across all farm enterprises. Discussion groups have been shown to increase adoption of farm technology and practices, however, their value in gaining farm health and safety adoption has not previously been evaluated in Ireland or Internationally.

Dr O Connor conducted her research among 84 dairy discussion groups involving 1232 farmers. However, the study findings are applicable to all farm discussion groups and add greatly to knowledge related to social learning for farm health and safety. 

A key positive finding of the study shows that 96% of discussion groups discussed health and safety at least once in 2016. In addition, the majority of discussion groups focused on health and safety protection strategies that are closely aligned with causes of fatal farm accidents. However, a number of important issues such as chronic illness-related issues receive limited attention, according to Dr O’Connor.

Dr O’Connor said that farmer discussion works when health and safety issues are raised and farmers have space to share practical solutions, which, in turn, can motivate increased health and safety action among participating farmers.

In the 4-year study, two discussion approaches addressing 4 separate health and safety topics were examined, one in which the groups discussed all the topics in a single group meeting and the other in which groups covered each topic for a short period of about 20 minutes at a series of meetings, along with a control treatment where no health and safety topics were discussed.

The study findings indicate that both approaches are useful for strengthening farmers’ intentions to work in a safe and healthy way, and action on those intentions. Between the two approaches, the “little and often” approach was most strongly associated with an increase in action taken to increase safety.

The study received scientific supervision from Professor Jim Kinsella from the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science and Dr Denis O’Hora NUIG School of Psychology. Dr David Meredith, Teagasc Rural Development Programme and Dr John McNamara, Teagasc Senior Health and Safety Specialist acted as Teagasc supervisors.

Teagasc Health and Safety Specialist Dr John McNamara is currently calling on all discussion groups to include health and safety topics in their schedule for 2021.  Due to COVID-19, many discussion groups are taking place on teleconferences or web-based systems, however he stated that using the Farm Safety Risk Assessment document provides a valuable means of holdings stimulating discussions on this topic.

The advance link for registering for the Webinar is https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_CJLwgPXESfWRx8QiONWpVA