Fatalities in agriculture ‘5 to 7 times greater’ than all other sectors

New research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) analysing work-related injuries and illness in five sectors, including agriculture, will be launched by Minister of State Pat Breen today.

The study looked into five sectors: health; construction; transport and storage; the manufacturing and utilities industry; and agriculture, forestry and fishing.

These five sectors account for 41% of employment and 56% of work-related injuries in 2014.

The research tracks experiences over the period stretching from 2001 to 2014 inclusive, using nationally-representative surveys of the workforce collected by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Injury rates in the agriculture, construction and industry sectors fell during the recession (2008-2011), recording an occurrence rate of 2.4%, compared to the boom (2001-2007) which had a figure of 4%.

There is also some evidence of these rates increasing in the early recovery period; but this trend is – as of yet – inconclusive, according to the ESRI.

Fatalities

The rate of fatalities is highest in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector – which is five to seven times greater than that for all sectors.

The number of fatalities increased from 129 in the 2001-2007 period to 151 in the 2008-2014 period. Other sectors experienced a downward trend.

The combined fatalities in industry, construction, transport, and agriculture, forestry and fishing accounted for 85% of all worker fatalities in Ireland in 2014.

Adjusting for the numbers employed in each sector, the researchers found that – in the 2008-2014 period – the highest annual average number of days lost to injury per 1,000 workers occurred in the transport sector (766), followed by construction (532), agriculture (413), health (329) and industry (282). The figure for all other sectors was 216 days per 1000 workers.

Injury risk

In all sectors examined – except construction – night workers and shift workers had a higher risk of injury compared to workers not working these hours.

In all five sectors, new recruits were more likely to experience an injury compared to those with longer tenures, on a full-year equivalence basis.

Part-time workers are also at a higher risk of injury.

In the agriculture sector, while those working long hours had the highest risk of injury overall, part-time workers were found to face a greater risk of work-related illness per hour worked.

The rate of days lost per 1,000 workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector as a result of injury increased between the boom and the 2008–2014 period, while the rate of days lost to illness fell during the same period.

Inspections

There is a much higher rate of inspections per 1,000 workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector compared to other sectors.

In 2015, the rate in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector was five times that of all sectors.

Although the ESRI could not estimate an independent effect of inspections in this sector due to correlation with other factors, it was found to lower injury and illness rates across all sectors together.

Commenting on the research, Pat Breen, Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, said: “I welcome the work produced as part of the research programme between the ESRI and the Health and Safety Authority. It is vital to protect the health and safety of all employees while they are at work.”

Martin O’Halloran, chief executive officer of the HSA, also commented, adding: “This is a valuable body of research; it qualifies and quantifies and moves us from believing to knowing. It confirms to us that we need to have a greater focus on health and that our overall strategic direction in the area of workplace health is correct.

This research will also be very useful in relation to policy formulation and risk profiling workplaces for inspection purposes.

Helen Russell, research professor at the ESRI, said: “The recovery is leading to strong employment growth which is to be welcomed.

However, employment growth can bring with it increased risks to employee health and safety such as longer working hours and an influx of new inexperienced workers.

“Our research shows that new recruits in construction, health, agriculture and transport have a significantly higher risk of occupational injury. Hence, there is need for supervision, training, and support to prevent rising injury and illness rates.”

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