Traumas resulting in life-changing injuries happen twice as much on farms

Agricultural workers suffer more than twice as many non-fatal workplace injuries as workers in other sectors, according to new research on farm safety.

Today, Monday, July 20, marks the start of the eighth annual Farm Safety Week.

The campaign aims to reduce the number of accidents on farms and bring about a change in culture that makes unsafe practices socially unacceptable. The message for this year’s campaign is: It’s time to take safety seriously.

To coincide with this year’s Farm Safety Week, a research paper entitled “Trauma on Farms in the Republic of Ireland” written by Dr. Michael Sheehan, Dr. Conor Deasy and Louise Brent was published.

The paper was a study of the data collected as part of the Major Trauma Audit at the National Office of Clinical Audit (NOCA).

The paper, which examines the period 2014-2016, is the first significant study concerning this topic in Ireland.

Key findings include:
  • In the years 2014 through 2016, 430 patients met the Trauma Audit and Research Network (TARN) and Major Trauma Audit (MTA) inclusion criteria where the incident location was a farm;
  • The median age of patients was 54.5 years; the patients ranged in age from less than one year old to 93 years-of-age;
  • Falls of less than 2m (low falls) caused a quarter of major trauma in those under 65 years-of-age, and low falls make up almost one-third of patients over 65 years old;
  • 33% of paediatric patients presented as a result of a ‘blow’, 26% due to a vehicle incident and 19% as a result of a fall less than 2m;
  • Peaks of attendances occurred at busy times of the year for farmers, in March and July;
  • Most patients arrived on a Monday (16.3%);
  • Farm trauma patients were more likely to arrive by helicopter (6%) than other MTA patients;
  • Current data indicate that dairy farming is the most dangerous type of farming in the Republic of Ireland;
  • Agriculture workers suffer more than twice as many non-fatal workplace injuries as workers in other sectors.

Farming continues to have one of the most inadequate safety records of any sector in Ireland. Last year, 19 people lost their lives in farm accidents, while 14 people lost their lives so far in 2020.

Dr. Conor Deasy, clinical lead of MTA, NOCA, said: “The NOCA teamed up with Dr. Michael Sheehan, a farmer and emergency medicine doctor to perform this study.

“It shows the importance of farmers engaging with health and safety practices to prevent accidents occurring.

The major traumas we describe result in life-threatening or life-changing injuries and happen twice as much on family farms than in other industries.

“Of note, farmers who sustain injuries are often older and have other medical problems making their care more complex. Unlike any other industry, the age range of those sustaining injuries on farms included infants to 90-year-olds,” Dr. Deasy added.

Pat Griffin, senior inspector with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), said: “Farm safety needs to be proactively managed by every farmer and every contractor supported and encouraged by all the major farming organisations.”

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan said: “All too often, farmers do not recognise the risks on their farms, which makes it difficult to manage the problem.

Farmers have to be more careful, take their time and think about what could go wrong before they undertake any job.

Finally, Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc, said: “We are particularly concerned with the rise in farm workplace deaths so far in 2020.

“Farmers must be alert to dangers and take immediate preventative action. Avoiding haste and fatigue is crucial to prevent farm accidents.”