Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

No reason for farmers to fear HSA inspections

Darragh McCullough travelled to Westmeath to follow a safety inspection on Andrew Revington's dairy farm near Delvin

HSA inspector Ronan Kilgallon
HSA inspector Ronan Kilgallon
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Why don't more farmers ask for a HSA inspection? That's the question that goes through Ronan Kilgallon's mind. He's one of the HSA's fulltime safety inspectors, charged with making the often dreaded random call to farms all over Leinster. But are farmers right to dread the inspector?

"We're not interested in catching people out," says Mr Kilgallon, who grew up on a farm in Sligo. "My job is to spot the things that could lead to an accident or a fatality, and get the farmer to fix them as soon as possible."

The fact is that businesses in other sectors fork out hundreds of euro voluntarily to get a safety expert to give their premises a once over. "It's a service that gives owners peace of mind that they aren't missing something obvious."

It was with this in mind that Westmeath dairy and tillage farmer Andrew Revington decided to volunteer for a safety inspection. Here's what we found.



"It's no good having fire extinguishers around unless they are the right ones to tackle the type of fire that is likely in a particular area," said Mr Kilgallon

"For example, a powder extinguisher has the best range, including engine, oil or electrical fires, so that's the type you want around your machinery or workshop.

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"A water extinguisher could be dangerous on an electrical fire. A CO2 extinguisher is good on fires in a food production environment because it doesn't leave residue behind.

"But it's of limited benefit outdoors, especially if it's windy," he explained.

"The other thing you need to watch is that your extinguishers stay serviced. Inspectors will look for evidence of servicing within the previous 12 months."


Trips and falls are the most common type of accident on farms, but Andrew had taken a number of precautionary steps to minimise the danger.

“We can see that the floor area in places like the dairy and parlour were kept relatively clutter free. Andrew has also grooved the concrete, probably moreso for the cows’ safety, but the humans will benefit from it too,” says Mr Kilgallon who liked the well-lit, indoors cattle crush. . “The idea of the slightly raised step running down the side is also a big help to prevent back and strain injuries.”

Andrew also pointed out an area at the end of the step that he cut out so that it didn’t become a constant trip black-spot. “You need good flat areas to stand on at the restraining gate if you’re handling cattle,” he said.


"All big doors should be sliding, instead of swing so that the wind can't catch them," states the HSA inspector. "Investing in a handling gate and head-lock in the calving pen is another great investment, and one that qualifies for a 40pc grant in the TAMS safety scheme."


"A lot of workshops now have mini-grinders, along with the standard full-sized implement," says Mr Kilgallon.

But farmers should never be tempted to re-use the spent discs from the bigger machine on the mini-grinder.

"The latter works at a much higher revolution, and discs that are designed to work at lower speeds can actually splinter and disintegrate," adds Mr Kilgallon.


“This is the most obvious flaw on the farm here today,” said Ronan, referring to the partially exposed PTO on the fixed roller.

“It was really just a case of the driver not backing the tractor back far enough so that the guard covers meet in the middle. But maybe a safer option would be to get a new cover that was longer to prevent this situation arising again.

“Generally I find that up to 50pc of farms there are PTO guards are missing or damged, and most farmers claim that they didn’t even realise that they were gone.

“In [the insert] this case here the O-guard attached on the machine is cracked – it’s not a mortal sin, but it would be better to get it fixed. Some of them are terrible quality that go very brittle in the sun. But they can be changed for about €10, and pop on handy enough if you soften them beforehand in boiling water.”


“The sign on the bike says it all really: there shouldn’t be more than one passenger; it’s not designed for road use; don’t drive it with alcohol taken; and wear a helmet at all times,” says Mr Kilgallon.

“Andrew has no helmet here, which isn’t unusual. But ones that meet the standard can be got for as little as €25, and they should be on the bike at all times.”


A gap in the protective wire around the rest of the grain roller was an issue for the HSA inspector.

"There's no point in having a grill three-quarters around something - it either needs to be person-proof or not. So this is something that Andrew will need to address," says Mr Kilgallon.


"Signs aren't just for show. They actually serve as a visual cue for people to take care. So there should be ones on the gates into fields with overhead cables where big machines could be operating. It's also important that storage for hazardous chemicals and medicines is not only well labelled, but also locked up," says Mr Kilgallon.


Andrew is very impressed with the latest design in slurry tank access points.

“There was a time when you couldn’t get into a tank without a loader lifting out a few heavy concrete slats – which then invariably were left sitting beside the open tank long after the job was done,” he said.

“These lids are light, there’s no hinges sticking up to catch a loader bucket, and the wire grill underneath allows a pipe in without creating a hole big enough that somebody can fall through.”

Andrew also ended up placing the tank access points an extra metre out from the gable wall of the shed.

“I didn’t realise how big a difference it would make in terms of being able to walk around the agitator and adjust it without being squashed up against a wall.”


Mr Kilgallon feels that a safety rail along the top, or at the side, of the pit wall is a great addition.

"Not only would it make the pit safer for people on top of it during filling, covering or feeding out, but it also provides a good storage space for tyres.

I think it also provides a good sighting rail for the guy on the loader when he's filling the pit. It would add about a couple of thousand to the cost, but I think it'd be well-worth it," he says.


Andrew has invested heavily in his buildings and farmyard over the last 10 year and Ronan Kilgallon was quite impressed with a lot of the features.

"He's got the right type of sealed switches in the dairy, with clear labelling. In the parlour, Andrew's also got the right type of plug socket - I've seen countless situations where a standard socket has been wired into the parlour for radios, clippers and heaters. But this can be lethal in a wet environment.

"Farmers should also test the circuit breaker switches in their fuse boxes. In my experience, 50pc of these are faulty, but you'll never know until it's too late unless you routinely test them. In recent years a child was electrocuted power-washing a parlour. So test the RCDs every six months, - it will actually help them last longer."

Some of the earths in Andrew's parlour had become disconnected, exposing both him and his cows to the damaging effects of stray current.

Small things such as open-ended conduit doubling up as a handy spot for storing screw-drivers was a good example of potential danger. "Just make sure that whatever work you get done by electricians and builders is finished completely." says Mr Kilgallon.

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