Farm Ireland

Thursday 25 April 2019

Half of all EU workplace deaths occur in farming

MEPs push for integrated data to help reduce accidents and fatalities

A farmer drives his tractor in his field as he plants potatoes in Estourmel near Cambrai, France April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A farmer drives his tractor in his field as he plants potatoes in Estourmel near Cambrai, France April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Rauli-Jan Albert, a livestock farmer in the eastern Finnish village of Valtimo, was almost crushed to death by a young heifer a few years ago as he was guiding his herd through a narrow passageway.

It's the kind of freak accident that you can't predict, but that will soon be recorded in the EU's 10-year farm census and other periodic surveys.

"Now I can foresee it, but I couldn't think that it would happen," Albert recalls. "Of course, when you do work with animals, you never can know if, or with what reason, an animal can get the impulse to do something irrational."

For Mr Albert, farming is getting safer thanks to newer and smarter equipment, but it's still a challenge, especially on small farms.

"Normally, your machinery is quite new or it is maintained systematically," he told the Farming Independent. "I think the most critical thing is when you have a machine running," he adds, "but, I, as a farmer, have in mind what can happen and I try to avoid it."

Finnish farmers have fewer accidents than their Irish counterparts. According to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), one person dies on an Irish farm every two weeks. According to Eurostat, almost half of all fatal workplace accidents in 2015 were in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors, an incidence rate (number of fatalities per 100,000 people) that was four times the EU average.

Even more farm workers suffer life-changing injuries. John Dillon, a former president of the Irish Farmers' Association, had his leg crushed in a quad bike accident a few years ago.

He recounts his harrowing tale on the HSA's 'Survivor ­Stories' website, along with Kevin McEnteggart, who survived a childhood fall into a slurry tank.

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After 2020, these kinds of stories will be recorded systematically by the EU, thanks to a deal struck by agriculture MEPs last week on the bloc's new integrated farm statistics regulation.

Farmers will be asked to report on safety measures in place for machinery and animal housing, and will have to record accidents (by type, severity and the age/gender of the person involved).

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness said data on fatalities and accidents has been "severely lacking up to now" and is needed to help bring about change.

"This is an important initiative in ensuring that we have the necessary statistics to know what is happening on our farms and that hard - rather than anecdotal - evidence is available to justify and underpin important actions to protect and save lives," Ms McGuinness said.

Indo Farming