Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 22 February 2018

Age profile of farmers is biggest risk factor

The farm fatality rate among the over 65s is disproportionately high says HSA senior inspector Pat Griffin

Health and Safety Authority (HSA) senior inspector, Pat Griffin.
Health and Safety Authority (HSA) senior inspector, Pat Griffin.

Martin Ryan

Ireland is not alone in trying to tackle farming's status as the most dangerous workplace.

It is a world-wide problem and in Europe the fact that the farming workforce is predominantly ageing or elderly appears to be a key factor.

The past year has been proof enough of this, with farmers over 65 years of age representing 33pc of the Irish agricultural fatalities in 2014.

"The average age of Irish farmers is 57 years and a serious incidence for an older farmer is more likely to be fatal," explains Health and Safety Authority (HSA) senior inspector, Pat Griffin.

He believes that the fact that Ireland has a higher percentage of family-run farms than some EU countries exacerbates the problem.

"Of particular concern in Ireland and across the EU is the ageing workforce in agriculture, because farmers tend not to retire.

The statistics in relation to the impact on farm safety are difficult to compare, because some countries do not include children or farmers over 65 years in their analysis," he said.

This is despite the fact that an EU study from 2007 showed that 90pc of EU farmers over 55 years old. Put another way, for every farmer under 37 years of age, there are nine over 55 years of age in Europe.

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According to Mr Griffin, Irish farm fatalities for those over 55 years of age have on some occasions made up 70pc of all farm deaths in recent years such as 2007 and 2011.

In 2014, ten of the fatalities were farmers over 65 years, involved in machinery and livestock accidents. Four of the farmers were over 80 years and a further two over 78 years.

However while the 30 farm fatalities in 2014 was the highest in two decades, and almost three times worse than recent years, Ireland has now improved to rank among the top five counties in the EU for farm safety, according to Mr Griffin.

Among the factors conspiring to make agriculture one of the deadliest workplaces is the fact that the vast majority of farmers across Europe self-employed and self-supervised individuals largely reliant on family labour.

It is reported that there are 17.5m persons working on 13.7m farms in the EU. This means that three quarters of EU farms are one-person operations, but in Ireland the figure is even higher at 92pc.

In the 10 year period 1998 to 2007, official records state that 5,744 persons died in workplace accidents in agriculture and forestry in the 15 countries that were part of the EU before enlargement.

However, these figures exclude Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg, where data is seemingly unavailable.

Informed estimates suggest that there are still 1,000 fatalities across the EU in farming annually.

The problem of farm related accidents is world wide. In New Zealand claims arising from quad bike and tractor accidents are now costing a staggering €8m per year to just one of the major insurance companies, Accident Compensation Corporation.

In the United States, the accident rate on farms is higher than mining and construction in deaths per 100,000 workers.

An average of one farm fatality per 10,000-15,000 of total population has been recorded annually in some US regions over the past five years.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), accidents involving tractors account for the loss of 125 lives per annum.

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