The most dangerous workplace in Ireland right now is a farm, with farmers – and, indeed, those who work on farms – encountering situations, on a daily basis, that could have life-changing or even fatal consequences.

But by implementing changes to behaviour and work practices, such incidents can be avoided.

A recent partnership between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Axa, and Agriland Media Group, saw the launch of an innovative campaign to promote more awareness of farm safety.

This digital-only, farm-safety initiative aims to provide simple and practical advice to farmers on the steps they can take to make their farms safer places.

Slurry safety

This month, the focus is on slurry storage, handling, and spreading as tanks all around the country are being agitated and emptied and their contents applied to the fields.

Eddie Mulligan, farm manager, Teagasc Beef Research Centre, Co. Meath shares the safety precautions he takes when working with slurry

Slurry is an important resource on Irish farms, particularly at this time of high input costs.

But it is a potentially lethal substance and its storage, handling, and spreading are high-risk activities which have led to close calls, injuries, and fatalities.

While the number of fatal incidents due to slurry has reduced in recent years, there is no room for complacency.

Over the past 10 years, on average, at least one person has lost their life each year due to slurry – as a result of drowning, asphyxiation due to gas, or slurry equipment.

Sadly, so far in 2022, there has been one fatal incident involving slurry.

Slurry storage

Slurry storage presents an almost year-round risk of drowning. Open slurry pits without childproof and stockproof fencing present a serious risk to life.

If you have a pit, have you checked to see if there are damaged or open agitation points? These present a serious risk, especially to those who may not be familiar with the yard.

If your slurry-storage facilities or equipment need to be brought up to standard, I would ask you consider availing of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).

This provides grant aid for a range of investments to help you improve slurry safety on your farm, including protective fencing for the slurry store (pit); replacement manhole covers; replacement slats; and safety agitation platforms.

Slurry handling

When handling slurry, it cannot be repeated often enough, always ensure that you agitate on a windy day to maximise ventilation.

Even on windy days, gas can build up in sheltered areas of buildings and connected buildings, including milking parlours and dairies.

It may take more than 30 minutes for the gas to disperse from sheltered areas and even short exposure to this gas could prove fatal.

Slurry agitation

Many older slatted sheds have indoor agitation points, which are extremely dangerous and agitating a tank from an internal agitation point should always be avoided.

If you have a slatted shed with an indoor agitation point, I would urge you to look at the TAMS scheme and the grant aid available to extend the tank to install an outdoor agitation point. Or, you could install an aeration system or a circulation pipe for agitation and extraction. It could be a lifesaving investment.

Finally, a lot of the equipment used to prepare and spread slurry can lie idle for long periods, so a quick check should be performed to ensure it is fit for purpose.

When is the last time you checked that the tractor and equipment are in good working order?