Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 23 March 2017

Altering attitude on Farm safety

Prevent deaths on your farm by improving work conditions

Bruce Lett

Farming is the most dangerous occupation in the Irish economy and for those who don't accept this assertion, then the figures from the Health and Safety Authority's (HSA) annual report should convince them.

According to the HSA report for last year, 47 workplace deaths were reported. Sadly, 25 of these were in agriculture. This was an increase of 14 from 2009 when there were 11 agricultural workplace deaths.

However, statistics hide the individual heartache that accompanied each of these accidents. Families and communities have been touched by every one of these deaths.

However, the focus for the farming sector has to be in cutting the number of farm accidents and making farms a safer place to work.

Farmers must therefore become more safety conscious in order to achieve this goal.

Farming is a dangerous business and there will always be accidents that cannot be prevented, but most can be avoided and it is by concentrating on prevention that improvements can be made.

However, the first thing to alter is the attitude of farmers to workplace safety. Mention health and safety concerns to a group of farmers and, within a few seconds, you will see many of them completely switch off.

A lot of it has to do with both attitude and education. The education part is no problem; it's the attitude that needs the discipline.


In 1999, I joined the ESB. On my first day with the firm, I stepped out of the van on the site and left my helmet behind. The works coordinator read me out of it for not having my helmet on. I never forgot it again.

Health and safety didn't just stop with helmets. Each site you went to, which more often than not was a farm, and each crew in each vehicle, had to fill out a jobsite safety plan. This listed all identified hazards associated with the job. In addition to working at heights on an ESB pole, the hazards usually included livestock, electric fences and so on.

The point being that, after a while, you got so used to wearing the helmet and filling out the safety plan that it was no longer a chore.

Most of us felt the safety plan was just pointing out the obvious. But, in reality, it was making workers aware of their surroundings and reinforcing their own subconscious checklist. For example, workers would turn around if they heard animals behind them because they would have checked and known that there was a bull in the field.

Boxes

In farming, most people are self-employed, so there is no-one there when they go out the door in the morning to remind them to do this or that, or tick the boxes on a safety plan.

The onus is on each farmer to ensure that their work environment, tools and so on are safe. That's not an easy thing to do, both from a motivational and a financial perspective.

As a result of last year's increase in farming fatalities, the HSA is ramping up the number of farm inspections this year, from 1,700 to a minimum of 3,000.

While farmers may look at the checks as simply another farm inspection, the difference with this one is that they won't cut your payments and it might save your life.

To date, the HSA has taken a sensible approach, more poking with the safety stick than beating, with inspectors visiting farms and advising on what needs to be put right.

Going on reports from inspections last year, farmers have been given quite a decent timeframe to carry out the necessary repairs, tasks, etc.

It is understood, for example, that there were a lot of PTO shafts that needed covers to bring them up to the necessary safety standard.

Absolutely crucial, though, is that farms with three or less employees, which would cover most in the country, have completed the HSA's Farm Safety Code of Practice Risk Assessment document. This is a legal requirement and inspectors will look for it and expect it to be filled out. It can be downloaded from the IFA website and filled out manually (www.ifa.ie) or there is also a link on the IFA's website where you can fill out an online version. This is called the Online Farm Safety Risk Assessment.

The 'hard-copy' paper version is a 32-page document and is extremely comprehensive, informative and relatively easy to fill out.

It is divided up into relevant sections, such as machinery, livestock and buildings, with guides and statistics between each section. Some may find the online version a little less straight forward.

Indo Farming