Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Dairy farms the most lethal workplace - HSA

Risk factor for fatal injury is 24 times that of the average workplace says senior inspector

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

Martin Ryan

Full-time dairy farms have become the most 'lethal' workplace in the country with the risk factor for fatal injury 24 times higher than that in the average workplace.

"Dairy farming is by far the riskiest job in the country at the moment and I think dairy farmers urgently need to do something about that," said Pat Griffin, senior inspector with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

Teagasc research has found that while dairying accounts for less than one-sixth of farms, fatal accidents on dairy farms now account for three out of every five farm fatalities.

Those most at risk are full-time dairy farmers aged 55 plus and working over 30ha. Mr Griffin said that the expansion in dairy farming could not be ruled out as a contributory factor to the 30 farm fatalities in 2014.

Round bales have also emerged as a new risk factor. They were responsible for eight farm deaths over the last two years, compared with none during the previous decade.

Another trend is that cows are now killing more farmers than bulls are.

"Cows kill more farmers than bulls at this stage. They are very unpredictable, particularly heifers calving for the first time and suckler cows," said Mr Griffin. An estimated 90pc of accidents occurred around yards and buildings, he said.

The most deadly hour on dairy farms is between 11am and 12 noon, leading to speculation among safety experts about tiredness and under-nourishment creating a black spot around noon.

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"Very few fatalities occur before 9am despite the farm day starting much earlier. This indicates the work involving the most risk is not undertaken early in the day," said Mr Griffin.

"Maybe the farmer is more alert in the morning. But I would not rule out the impact of the farmer being dehydrated or not having the proper nourishment for full focus," he said.

He also called for more safety training on new equipment.

"A new machine is delivered to the farm and off the farmer goes without training in the use of the equipment. It would not happen in any other sector and it needs to change if farm fatalities are to be avoided," he said.

The low profitability in farming is also emerging as a major safety risk factor. Some farmers were cutting corners and working longer hours to save costs which is leading to "isolation, stress levels and lots of difficulties," said Mr Griffin.

He criticised the absence of a farm safety requirement for the Single Farm Payment and pointed out that the training required under TAMS II is creating greater awareness around safety issues.

However, the IFA said that linking farm safety to cross compliance under the Single Farm Payment scheme would not have the desired impact because it would increase the stress on farm families.

"This has been shown to increase the risk of ill health and accidents. Increased regulation has been shown internationally not to reduce the number of farm accidents. Traditional policy tools, including legislation, sanctions and regulations have had limited impact at changing human behaviour," it claimed.

Instead, the IFA want a safety module included in the discussion group programme.

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