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23 April 2019

Health and Safety is crucial for Farming Sustainability

Posted By: AIB Business

Nothing has the potential to jeopardise the livelihood / sustainability of a family farm more than a serious or fatal farm accident or ill health. Dr John McNamara, Health and Safety Specialist, Teagasc discusses farm health and safety and encourages all to be vigilant at this busy time of the year on Irish farms.   

Nationally, and indeed internationally, it has been well documented that farming is one of the most hazardous occupations one can be involved in, accounting for numerous work-related fatalities and accidents annually. In 2018, 15 people lost their lives on Irish farms, which follows 25 farm deaths in 2017. Farm fatalities, while each tragic, are but the tip of the iceberg, as an estimated 2,500 serious farm accidents occur annually in Ireland.

Recently, the UN included Good Health and Well-Being among its Sustainable Development Goals. Securing health and safety on Irish farms requires sound management; appropriate farmer health and safety behaviour (including all who work and live on the farm) and potentially implementing infrastructural elements on farm to reduce potential hazards. Below are some considerations:

Family Safety

The safety of all members of the family needs to be considered. Childhood safety is paramount, particularly as summer approaches. Ensure that young children have a safe play area and cannot gain access to the farmyard on their own. Among older farmers there has been an increasing level of fatal accidents, so encouragement is needed to avoid high risk tasks. The working generation on the farm need to keep a balance between work, rest and leisure and ensure safe and healthy conditions for all on the farm.

Farmers Health

Farmer health issues can come from work related sources such as musculoskeletal disorders and respiratory conditions. The key to prevention is to remove the source of the hazard e.g. not heavy or awkward loads, having a tidy and well maintained farm. Stress can be avoided by recognising the symptoms and taking steps to remove the cause. A recent study has shown that, long term, health is 75% associated with health behaviours, social, economic and physical environmental factors. Undergoing a regular health check, getting aerobic exercise, eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol all strongly enhance health.

Farm Management

Managing farm health and safety is a crucial component of farm management. This entails constantly including health and safety measures in both the physical layout and work practices of the farm. Farm facilities in particular should match workload. Considerable capital grant aid is available from TAMS II to modernise farms, including the health and safety dimension.


Risk Assessment

Irish research has found that farmers who regularly identify hazards and remove them have high health and safety standards. Put another way, if hazards build up on a farm the risk of accidents greatly increases. A second important point about Risk Assessment is that it should be all encompassing, not just focused on physical or tangible on-farm hazards. Research indicates that Controls for Children and Older Farmers in addition to operator health often get overlooked by farmers.

A newly revised Code of Practice (available on the H.S.A. website) and a Risk Assessment Document came into force on 1st January 2019. These green coloured documents replace previous white coloured ones. Completion of the up to date Risk Assessment Document is required for Food Assurance Schemes. Completion of a Half-Day Training course on the Risk Assessment Document within the previous 5 years or completion of the Certificate in Farming on the Risk Assessment Document is necessary to draw down TAMS II grant payments. Risk Assessment training is available from Teagasc, accredited Consultants and FRS Training.

In conclusion, 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 emotional and financial cost of ill-health / injury is significant. 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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Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. Copyright Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. 1995.