The principal driver of good health and safety management on farms is taking ongoing preventative action.

This was the message of Professor Stephan Van den Brouke, head of health psychology and prevention at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, and keynote speaker at the National Farm Health and Safety Conference that took place in the Abbey Court Hotel, Nenagh Co Tipperary last week.

The annual conference is hosted by the Health and Safety Authority and Teagasc, supported by the Farm Safety Partnership and sponsored by FBD Insurance.

Professor Van den Broucke delivered a presentation entitled ‘Designing more effective Farm Safety programmes – Understanding what drives safe behaviours’.

The professor is basing his presentation on research on the theory of planned behaviour among Belgian farmers as it relates to safe machinery use, animal handling, fall prevention and pesticide use.

The study strongly indicates that gaining farmers’ intention to act and feeling that implementation was within their control explained 56-70 per cent of farmer behaviour change.

Professor Van den Broucke added: “It is clear from worldwide research that farmers having knowledge of health and safety controls is not sufficient to gain their implementation. Influencing the behavioural determinants such as farmer attitudes and social acceptance of risk taking has the potential to greatly increase the effectiveness of a health and safety programme.”

Speaking about the 800 farm discussion groups that operate nationally, Teagasc director Professor Gerry Boyle said: “Farm discussion groups have the potential to bridge the gap between knowledge and implementation. Our research has shown that active discussion at groups along with peer support has a clear advantage in adoption of farm technology and practice.”

Martin O’Halloran, CEO of the Health and Safety Authority, said: “Agriculture has the highest rate of occupational death and injury in Ireland. While we have seen glimpses of improvements, these have been short lived. We need to establish a means of achieving a consistent reduction in accidents which we believe requires a change in culture. We hope behavioural psychology will give us some critical direction on how to achieve this.”

Brendan McGarry, a member of the West-Offaly Dairy Farmer Discussion Group, the overall winners of EU Occupational Safety and Health Agency Good Practice Award, described how its discussion group helped members to enhance management of farm health and safety.

Teagasc Health and Safety Officer John McNamara stated that it is vital to adapt farms for expansion to avoid excessive work load. Rushing was identified as a major cause of farm accidents on large scale farms in a recent National Farm Survey of Farm Accidents.