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What's killing Irish farmers?


Heavy machinery and tractors are the most common source of fatal farm injuries in Ireland.

Heavy machinery and tractors are the most common source of fatal farm injuries in Ireland.

Heavy machinery and tractors are the most common source of fatal farm injuries in Ireland.

There were 187 farm accident fatalities on Irish farms during the period from 2005 to 2014, while over 2,000 in-patient admissions to hospitals nationwide were recorded during the same period.

A variety of serious but not life-threatening injuries were recorded in the survey, which was compiled by surgeon Dr Matthew Lee.

The cause of the 187 fatalities ranged from injuries received when dealing with tractors and farm vehicles at 30pc, machinery 19pc, livestock 13pc, drowning/ gas 11pc, falls from heights 9pc, falling objects and timer related deaths 7pc each, electrocution 2pc, and other causes 2pc.

The non-fatal injuries include a considerable number of bone fractures. These included forearm, wrists and hands (29.8pc); lower leg, ankle and feet (28.6pc); rib, sternum and thoracic spine (11.8pc); femur (11.2pc); skull, facial bones, cervical spine (9.1pc); lumber, spine and legs (6.7pc); shoulders and underarms (2.8pc).

The survey identified a decreasing trend in the overall number of farmyard-related fractures during the period which came out as a 21pc decline in the average injury rate.

However, farming remains the most dangerous occupation in terms of work-related fatalities in the Irish economy.

Heavy Machinery

Heavy machinery and tractors are the most common source of fatal farm injuries in Ireland, accounting for 49pc of the total, which is mirrored in other European countries, concluded Dr Lee in his Irish Medical Journal article.

However, he also cautioned that while “this dominance has declined, the increasing mechanisation of farming practices may have served to aid a reduction in total injury, but may pose a new and evolving source of significant high-energy trauma.

“The increasing age of farmers combined with rapid technology advancement and mechanisation is a relationship fraught with dangers and potentially fatal injuries,” stated the study.

“The industry is primarily comprised of private, self-employed farming families, making safety training and standard setting more challenging to ensure. Compliance with health and safety legislation enacted in 1989 has been difficult to enforce across areas of the farming community.

“Family members are often co-workers on the farm and surveys have found farm family members suffer over 90pc of all farmyard injuries. This may contribute to a lower rate of insurance claims and suspected under-reporting of injuries on farmyards.”

Dr Lee recommends that farm safety should specifically target farmers over 55 years old, particularly those with extensive machinery and those with livestock.

“Campaigns need to engage with the spouse and family, given the alarming fatality rates involving the family and those under 17 years of age. This is not a new phenomenon with similar conclusions made in Great Britain over 20 years ago.

“Voluntary safety courses reported attendance rates as low as 22pc in 2011, showing the penetration and engagement of education campaigns remaining a challenge. For medical teams, the data analyses should increase the awareness of the complexity, fatality rates and injury severity patterns of farmyard injuries… Multimedia, exhibitions and education at annual farming calendar events may promote such awareness.”

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