An estimated 37% of farmers have reported “having a near miss or close call” with an animal, according to latest farm safety research published by Teagasc.

But 18% of farmers have also reported a “serious” animal related incident in the last five years, Teagasc analysts have found.

According to Dr. Mohammad Mohammdrezaei, from the Teagasc rural economy department and one of the team of researchers who produced its latest farm safety report, on average, 57% of farmers “engage in unsafe farming practices”.

Dr. Mohammad Mohammdrezaei, Teagasc,

Dr. Mohammdrezaei said that although farmers acknowledge that farming can be a dangerous occupation, feedback shows that many believe that “people who they consider to be good farmers do not think safety is an important issue”.

Farm safety risks

The Teagasc research team also found that farmers, as a whole, tend to be “risk optimistic” but statistics then show how this approach can have unfortunate outcomes.

Dr. Mohammdrezaei said there is a clear perception among farmers that they “have to get the job done” and that for some – regardless of age, gender, education, enterprise – they will take a risk that could result in severe injury or death.

According to the latest research, dairy farmers, compared to other farmers, are constantly exposed to a wide range and large number of risks.

Specifically, Teagasc identified that livestock are a “leading cause of death and serious injury on farms in Ireland”.

An average 60% of farmers handle livestock on a weekly basis and animal herding according to the research team is a “key stressor for farmers”.

Around 57% of livestock farmers who participated in the Teagasc research project – which included 386 farmers – considered the farm to be a low risk environment, while just 4% considered it to be a “high risk environment”.

Attitudes and intentions regarding livestock safety are “overly positive” the research team found.

But feedback suggested that animal handling facilities on farms were a concern for some farmers.

Farm fatalities

Latest figures indicate that farm fatalities have risen year on year in Ireland during 2022.

The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for farm safety, Martin Heydon, believes farm safety is one of the most critical social issues facing farming today.

He said statistics do not “capture the enormity” of what families and loved ones endure when a farm fatality occurs.

The minister recently outlined that Teagasc is to head up a new European Union-funded farm safety project which will focus on “developing communities of farm safety practice across the EU”.

The EU has allocated €5 million to the SafeHabitus project which begins in January 2023 and will run for four years. Teagasc will lead the project which involves 20 academic and industry teams across 12 European countries.

According to Minister Heydon, the funding recognises the role that Irish researchers and research institutions are playing in the ongoing work to improve farmer health and safety.

“To have a sustainable agricultural sector, everyone working and living on farms must be kept safe,” he said.

“This project is another important step towards improving farmer safety and health by empowering farmers to change unsafe practices and adopt new, safer and healthier ways of working,” he added. 

Meanwhile, the minister has urged farmers to focus on safety when working over the festive and New Year period.

“To date this year, there have been 12 confirmed fatal incidents on farms in 2022. Whilst this is down on the average of 20 fatal incidents on farms over the last 10 years, it is still 12 farms, families and communities devastated by an irreversible loss,” he said.

“Fatal and non-fatal incidents can be prevented by changes to our behaviours and practices. This must be a priority for the sector if we want to improve the social sustainability of agriculture,” he added.

Health issues

He has appealed to farmers to take time over the festive period to review their farm safety code of practice risk assessment and to also take time out to think about their own health.

“Farmers experience a disproportionate burden of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, back pain and stress.

“Farmers care for the land, the crops, and the animals but all too often overlook the most important element – their own health and wellbeing,” Minister Heydon added.

He said many people can struggle with their mental health around Christmas and New Year’s time and he has asked farmers to look out for each other and seek support if they do feel overwhelmed.

“In addition to your GP, there are dedicated services and helplines available to both farmers and non-farmers who are experiencing poor mental health and finding it difficult to cope,” the minister added.