'Pressures on farmers are enormous' - Inspector says there's no point in farmers expanding if they can't do so safely

Overall workplace fatalities are declining but farming is the stark exception to the trend

John McNamara (far right), Teagasc Health & Safety Specialist discusses ATV with farmers at the Teagasc and HSA farm safety event in Clonakilty. Photo O’Gorman Photography
John McNamara (far right), Teagasc Health & Safety Specialist discusses ATV with farmers at the Teagasc and HSA farm safety event in Clonakilty. Photo O’Gorman Photography
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Over the last 10 years machinery and tractor accidents have accounted for 48pc of deaths - that's 95 out of 197 deaths - in agriculture in the last decade.

In the last three years alone there have been 36 farm fatalities involving machinery and tractors.

"When things get really bad in agriculture, you can see that it's machinery and tractors that are killing people," said Pat Griffin, Chief Inspector of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) at the recent Teagasc farm safety day in Clonakilty, Co Cork.

Mr Griffin said that the increased number of fatalities involving machinery may be as a result of expansion in farming, but that there's no point in expanding our farms if we can't compete safely.

"Farming now is a huge business across the world. The question is can Irish agriculture compete and can it compete safely? There's no point in competing in agriculture if it's to the loss of your leg, your arm or your loved one.

"Farm gate output has increased to €11.5bn a year, so we're working harder, producing more and the difficulties that farmers face are enormous," he said.

"The fatal accident rate in Ireland as a whole has gone down. We've saved over 500 lives in the last 25 years but unfortunately, agriculture is going the other direction and it may be a consequence of all the extra output and work."

"I think some of it is connected to dairy expansion and maybe the fodder crisis that happened, but we have to stop that upward trend," he said.

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Out of the 197 deaths that have occurred over the last decade as a result of farm accidents, 35pc have involved over 65s and 12pc have involved children. Mr Griffin went on to show farmers some images of farms where fatal accidents had occurred.

"Here you have a photograph of a farm accident where a two-year-old child was killed. The tractor reversed over the child. Here you have a situation where a child came in around the back of the tractor and the child was crushed but the driver couldn't see," he told farmers.

Mr Griffin told the Farming Independent that these images brought home to farmers the fact that accidents can occur on ordinary farms and that no one was "invincible".

"I think it makes it more realistic for them to see how easily things happen because a lot of those farms are fairly standard photographs of yards and unless you were told someone was killed there you might not know it.

"I hope farmers look at that and say 'well, maybe it can happen to me' because one of the problems we face is that farmers feel they're invincible and think it'll never happen to them and the reality is that it does happen to people and far too often," he said.

Teagasc Heath and Safety advisor John McNamara advocated that safe play areas with gates be implemented on farms so that children are less vulnerable to accidents. He added that out of the 22 deaths in 2017, four have involved quads and that it's therefore "down to the human being" to be more cautious.

"Farmers think if they can drive tractors they can work anything, that's not the case. They're hard to turn. They don't roll around corners, they drag around corners. They are a motorbike and they're about 750kg, so they're heavy."

"If they overturn on top of someone it will get you at your head or chest. It is likely to be fatal in the middle of your body if you're crushed. Proper driving is the key, if it's overturned things are out of control. Also wear a helmet. It's down to the human being to keep the thing under speed control and balance the weight," he explained.

Teagasc technician Tom Scannell warned farmers of the dangers of PTO shafts and urged farmers to remember that "machines have no conscience. They can be a great friend but a deadly enemy. We have to respect them".

Garda Tommy Brosnan said that a Category BE licence is needed if farmers are towing a larger trailer on the road and that farmers need to be more vigilant as accidents are often preventable if farmers carried out risk assessment.

"As part of my job... we examine equipment [at accident scenes] to see if there was something that malfunctioned. A lot of the time there's nothing wrong with the machine, instead it's the manner in which the task was carried out."

"No risk assessment was carried out, an assistant was needed or the proper safety procedures weren't there. Sometimes the handbrake isn't efficient in the tractor and it rolls over the farmer or crushes them against a wall."

"I've seen accidents with trailers. The farmer does work on their own and can't see if a machine is properly secured and it can roll over them and have terrible consequences."

Indo Farming

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