The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is reducing the number of farm inspections it will carry out to 2,300 in 2015, despite the sector having an 87% increase in farm deaths in 2014 with farm deaths accounting for 55% of all work-related deaths.

This is a reduction in farm inspections of 20% for 2015.

In comparison, the construction industry will see 3,150 inspections carried out in 2015 by the HSA, and increase of 650 on 2014. Last year eight people died in construction accidents (4.4% of all work-related deaths).

Farm deaths increased by 87% in 2014, with 30 people killed compared to 16 in 2013. For the fifth year running, the agriculture sector has recorded the highest number of fatalities, representing roughly 55% of all work related deaths in 2014.

In 2014, the HSA announced it would carry out 2,900 inspections on farms and 2,500 in construction.

Martin O’Halloran, CEO of the HSA, said that it was a particularly horrific year for the agriculture sector. “The number of fatal accidents that occurred on farms last year was the highest in over 20 years. In May of 2014 alone there were five people killed. It is particularly tragic that five children lost their lives on Irish farms last year.”

“We are concerned at what is a significant increase in workplace fatalities and what is particularly alarming is that 54% of fatalities involved vehicles in the workplace. This is up 13% from the previous five-year average for 2009 to 2013 of 41%.

“However if we exclude agriculture, the overall fatal accident trend is downwards.”

During 2014 there were reductions in fatalities in construction (from 11 down to 8); fishing (5 down to 1) and transportation and storage (4 down to 3).

During 2015, the HSA intends to carry out 11,955 inspections and investigations during 2015, a marginal increase on the target of 11,520 for 2014.

Martin O’Halloran said the HSA will add more online tools designed specifically for the construction and agriculture sectors.

“One of our goals for 2015 is to ensure that any increase in employment doesn’t lead to an increase in accidents. Research shows that a new employees’ first six months in a job can be the time when they are most vulnerable and most likely to being injured at work.”

According to the HSA plans for 2015, it aims to develop and deliver co-ordinated initiatives with major stakeholders (e.g. raising awareness, safety promotion, training, special projects, further research).

It also plans to progress the Joint Prevention Initiative with Teagasc and identify synergies with them to promote occupational safety and health in agriculture.

Inspections, it says, will focus on high-risk activities and key concerns such as general safety management, machinery safety, animal handling, slurry handling, and child and elderly safety.

It also plans to conduct a two-week farm safety campaign to highlight the issues of farm deaths and accidents.

According to the HSA, prevention of farm deaths and accidents can be achieved by influencing behaviour change and fostering a strong culture of safety.

“While inspections are an important part of that we must look at additional methods to achieve these aims. By reducing the number of farm inspections in 2015 we can free up inspectors to take part in other activities, such as discussion groups and farm walks.

“This way we can meet with, and influence, more farmers and consequently promote greater change. Overall engagement with the sector will remain high with media campaigns, action plans, stakeholder engagement, new online risk assessment tools, seminars and exhibitions also planned for 2015,” a spokesperson for the HSA said.