Expansion in farming blamed for the increased number of fatal accidents

Expansion in farming is to blame for the upward trajectory of fatal accidents on Irish farms, according to a senior inspector with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), Pat Griffin.

Griffin made the comments as he addressed a Knowledge Transfer (KT) event on farmer wellbeing that was approved by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The event was hosted by CC Agri Consultants and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) on Thursday, April 5, at the Hotel Kilmore in Cavan.

Griffin – who is the head of farm safety in the HSA – believes that agriculture is going in the “wrong direction” in relation to fatal farm accidents.

“Over the last seven or eight years, we have been going up constantly.

That is due to expansion in farming – having to have more livestock, having to do more work, having to bale more silage, having to empty more tanks; it’s all an increased workload to get the same amount of money.

“We’re going the wrong way in agriculture; there is too much death and misery. There is too much work and there is not enough payment for farmers. The whole system is skewed and there is nobody out there that seems to be able to deal with it,” he said.

Fatal farm accidents

Griffin took up his current role within the HSA approximately 12 years ago, having worked his way up the ladder.

“I have been with the Health and Safety Authority for 28 years. For the first 10 years I did an awful lot of inspections, a lot of accident investigations, a lot of complaint investigations and – sadly – a lot of fatal accident investigations.

The saddest ones were always farming related; because the farm family had to continue to live on the farm where the accident happened – that is the hardest thing.

He indicated that the number of children killed on Irish farms in those 12 years has dropped from anywhere up seven per year down to around one per year. Statistics show now that the ones most at risk of being involved in a fatal farm accident are in the 60+ age bracket.

Continuing, he said: “For every 100,000 people working in agriculture, there are 18 people killed every year.

“Agriculture has by far the highest rate of fatal injury of any economic sector; you are actually four times more likely to be killed on a farm than on a construction site.”

Importance of help around the farm

As farmers place themselves under more pressure and add to their workload, the likelihood of an accident is increased, Griffin pointed out.

In 2014, as farmers prepared for the abolition of quotas in the following year, the number of farm fatalities jumped to 30 – the highest number recorded in recent years.

On the other end of the scale, the number of fatal farm accidents dropped to 10 in 2009.

Continuing, Griffin added: “That was a direct result of the economic crash in Ireland; when construction sites shut down right across the country, all the young lads went back to the farms.

In 2009, there wasn’t one person over the age of 60 killed on a farm – because they had help. But, when there is no help on farms – and young people are gone back working in construction and in different industries – fatal accidents go sky high.

“Last year, there were 24 people killed on Irish farms – 14 of them were over 70; that’s because there is no help around,” he said.

Types of accidents

Between 2007 and 2016, there were 197 people killed as a result of farm-related accidents; this number jumps to 210 if you move the parameters to between 2008 and 2017.

Tractors and machinery make up most of the problem, being responsible for half of all the fatal accidents recorded in the past 10 years – with the majority of these related to incidents of crushing or being trapped.

Livestock is then next in line, being responsible for 13% of fatal farm accidents. Griffin added that livestock are responsible for causing probably 75% of non-fatal injuries on Irish farms.

Concluding, the senior inspector pleaded with farmers to minimise the level of risks they take when working on their respective farms and to be safety-conscious when carrying out their daily tasks.