Farming is still the most hazardous occupation despite high risk awareness

Farming continues to be the most hazardous occupation in Ireland, consistently reporting the highest number of fatalities in comparison to other sectors over the last number of years, according to the HSA.

At the National Conference on Farm Safety and Health in the Mullingar Park Hotel, held today, November 3, analysis by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) showed that farmers are eight times more likely, than those in the general working population, to die in a workplace accident.

In recent years 19 people, on average, have been killed each year in farm related workplace incidents, with 194 farming fatalities in the last decade (2006 – 2015). There have been 14 deaths to date in 2016.

One of the key themes discussed at the conference was how no one expects an accident to happen to them or their loved ones.

Galway farmer, Peter Gohery told the conference how his accident and subsequent extensive injuries are having lifelong consequences for him and his family.

Gohery appealed to his fellow farmers to use the safety management systems that have been developed by the HSA and Teagasc, like the ‘Farm Safety Code of Practice’ and training to manage risks.

Meanwhile, Michael Noble from Mental Health Ireland spoke about how farming can be a very stressful occupation and that sadly this stress often resulted in farmers taking their own lives when they felt unable to cope.

He spoke about the importance of building resilience and the ability to cope with all aspects of modern life.

Attendees also heard about the importance of being aware of the signs of stress, in themselves or others, so that action can be taken in time to reach out and manage the stress.

Making the opening address at today’s conference was the Minister for Employment and Small Business, Pat Breen who said since becoming Minister and being given the occupational safety and health brief, he has become acutely aware of the huge risks in farming and of the dreadful results of farm accidents.

“It is a cause of great sadness when notifications of workplace accidents reach my desk, especially when it involves a farm accident, which are more often than not deaths to family members on their own farm.”

Only by real engagement and taking absolute responsibility can farmers improve safety and health standards and prevent the great loss of life that currently blights the sector.

“I urge the farming organisations and representative bodies to continue working to raise awareness. I want to use this opportunity to restate my commitment to working with you all to achieve a sustained reduction in accidents.”

Martin O’Halloran, CEO of the HSA told the conference that farm safety and health is no longer new, farmers, sector stakeholders and farming organisations are becoming more aware of the need to manage safety and health like any other element of the farming enterprise.

“We have produced extensive guidance and information and made it easily accessible to farmers. However this cannot be seen as the end result.

“We must ensure their use in everyday work by all farmers, once that happens real changes in approach will yield significant improvements.”

Speaking about the importance of making safety and health integral to regular work practices, Professor Tom Kelly, Teagasc Director of Knowledge Transfer said that it is important that everyone is working on improving the engagement of farmers and ensuring that they see safety and health as a critical element of what they need to do in every task.

The current Department of Agriculture Food and Marine grant schemes needing ‘Code of Practice’ training or engagement in a knowledge transfer group provides incentives for farmers to up-skill in farm safety and health management.

Meanwhile, Professor Jim Phelan, Chairman of the Farm Safety Partnership told the conference that farming technology has come a long way but so has safety and health in farming, it is clear that it is becoming main-stream.

“We see signs on farm gates, high-vis vests, loads being well secured and safety is fast becoming the norm.

“Sadly, simple mistakes still cause loss of life or lifelong injury. We will continue to carry out research to find new ways to influence a change of culture so that the risks are managed out of farming practice.”

The HSA and Teagasc, with FBD sponsorship and the support of the Farm Safety Partnership hosted today’s conference.