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24 May 2017

Farm Safety - Your Decisions Matter

Posted By: AIB Business

Despite all the good work done by the Health and Safety Authority, farm organisations and others, the farm remains the most hazardous workplace one can be employed. Dr. Shane Whelan, Agri Sector Specialist has an extensive background in farm safety. Below he outlines some practical advice for farmers during this busy season.

Unfortunately, between January and June this year we have already seen twelve farm fatalities. In the last ten years, excluding 2017 incidents, almost 200 families have suffered the loss of a loved one because of an accident on an Irish farm – that’s almost one every three weeks.



Farm Safety is About Real People

These aren’t just statistics - they are real people, real farming families – and the scary thing is that they don’t even account for the 2,500 plus farm families impacted by serious farm accidents each year. The fact that there are very few of us who don’t know of someone impacted by farm accidents shows us the scale of the challenge. It also shows that they occur all over the country, across all sectors, and that neither young nor old are immune to the potential dangers – over 45% of farm fatalities in the last ten years have involved children or older farmers.


“It Won’t Happen to Me”

The blurring of the farm as a giant playground and place of residence, the diverse workload (often completed alone and under time pressure) and the fact that few farmers ever really retire, explain in part why the rate of agricultural-related fatalities is far higher than any other economic sector. But does it really get to the heart of the issue? Does it justify why the level of farm accidents is so reluctant to decline or why similar accidents occur year after year on Irish farms?

The simple answer is no, and to improve requires collective effort and acceptance by us all that a farm accident can happen on any farm. All too often, myself included, we think it won’t happen to us: “I know every inch of the farm, I was born here and have worked here every day since. I know where the dangers are and can avoid them”.


Don’t Take Chances

Chances are often taken as a result. And whether it’s getting into the pen with a freshly calved cow, not turning off the PTO when dealing with a blockage or making sure the handbrake is on and all brakes/lights working, the outcome can be fatal. I’m not in any way trying to paint a picture of negligence on the part of the farmer. Instead, I’m hoping to point out that sometimes familiarity leads to complacency and because we are so familiar with our surroundings, and our activities, we fail to see the wood from the trees.

And it’s not just the obvious things that we need to be conscious of. It’s the smaller or more trivial things where in hindsight we’d say, ‘I should have fixed that weeks ago’ or ‘What was I thinking of going so fast on the quad?’. Speaking to anyone about farm accidents, very often the bull or the uncovered PTO shaft spring to mind. But combined, they account for less than 5% of farm fatalities in the last 10 years. Nearly three times more have died from falls on Irish farms and five times more after being crushed by farm machinery.


Small Changes Make a Huge Difference

Ultimately, managing safety on our farms is our own personal responsibility, and should be a constant in our daily farm plans and activities. Not just for our own safety, but that of our families, employees and visitors to our farm.

The good news is that small changes to farm facilities and practices can make huge differences and there are a range of supports available. For example, The Health and Safety Authority have a range of practical guides and safety tips on their website to help identify and control potential challenges across a range of farm activities.


Practical Farm Safety Tips

Dr. John McNamara, Teagasc Health & Safety Officer, also provided some practical farm safety tips in a recent Agri Matters article, a summary of which is outlined below:

  • Before acting in haste, stop and reflect on potential outcomes of your action. A second spared is better than a lifetime lost.
  • Identify hazards and take remedial action as necessary - complete the Farm Safety Code of Practice Risk Assessment document for your farm.
  • Tidy up the physical farm environment like the yard, buildings, storage sheds. This gives you greater control of your work environment.
  • Plan and schedule your work activities to manage time and labour effectively. This offers you some scope to deal with unforeseen circumstances and gives you the opportunity to consider the safety issues which may arise at the outset.
  • Consider the space you are working in and ask whether it’s suitable. Assess the hazards it presents and consider whether they can be managed. Don’t just make do.
  • Get adequate rest - use contractors and additional workers where needed.
  • Let someone know your plans for the day. This way they have an early warning indicator if you don’t return at the planned time.
  • Take particular care where children and elderly people are on the farm. Children don’t have the same ability as adults to analyse situations and make appropriate decisions. And as we age, our ability to manage the same workload and our responsiveness diminish.


Act Now, Not Regret Later

As the silage and harvesting season approaches, it’s important that we are all particularly vigilant to the potential dangers on our own farms, and that we act at an early stage to avoid becoming another statistic.

Ensuring safety controls are in place and in working order may cost a few euro – but can you afford not to? The financial cost of injury is significant when you consider lost days at work, additional paid labour and, in many cases, family members taking time off from their own jobs to support the farm. There are also financial implications from reduced or ceased farm operations following more debilitating farm injuries or indeed the severe emotional and psychological costs and impacts associated with injury or farm fatalities. Act now, not regret later.


Please be aware that all of the views expressed in this Blog are purely the personal views of the authors and commentators (including those working for AIB as members of the AIB website team or in any other capacity) and are based on their personal experiences and knowledge at the time of writing.

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