Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Plan ahead to cut risk of tragedy

Derek Casey looks at the grim details behind the 16 farm fatalities recorded last year and asks what can be done to prevent more loss of life in 2014

Fatalities: In 2013 50pc of farm fatalities, or eight out of 16 deaths, were due to machinery accidents. Temptation to put off repairs should be resisted because the potential consequences can be tragic
Fatalities: In 2013 50pc of farm fatalities, or eight out of 16 deaths, were due to machinery accidents. Temptation to put off repairs should be resisted because the potential consequences can be tragic
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

It's tough to look at, but anyone reading this story should carefully study Table 1 which details the causes of the 16 farming-related deaths recorded on Irish farms in 2013.

The information, supplied by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), certainly doesn't make for easy reading. From the outset we should say that our sincere sympathies go to each of the 16 families affected by tragedy last year.

This isn't one of those tables you can read and easily forget; for each of the statistics you see, there was an empty chair around the kitchen table on New Year's Day.

On analysis some of the key points I would pick out are that:

n50pc of the fatalities were linked to machinery accidents, by far the greatest cause;

* Fifteen of the 16 fatalities involved males. The only female fatality was a nine-year-old girl who fell from a bale trailer;

* Falling from a height was responsible for three of the deaths;

* Drowning and gases were responsible for two of the deaths;

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* Six of the 16 deaths, or almost 40pc, took place all in one month - July;

* Six of the 16 deaths, almost 40pc, happened in Co Cork.

Again, it's easy to list off statistics, but the most difficult part of any fatality is left to the unfortunate family that must live with the consequences. The high proportion of deaths taking place in July as a result of machinery accidents jumps off the page. It just cannot be ignored.

How do the figures compare to previous years? In 2012 there were 21 farming deaths; in 2011 there were 22 farming deaths; and in 2010 there were 25 deaths.

That's 88 lives lost on farms since the beginning of 2010. So even though 16 deaths in 2013 is somewhat of an "improvement" on the previous year, it's hard to feel anything other than depressed looking at the figures.

Being realistic about it, such is the nature of farming as a livelihood that I don't think we will ever fully eradicate accidents in the sector. The more achievable aim in the short term, in my view, is to reduce as far as possible the chances of having an accident on your farm by taking simple steps that have been proven to work.


Farmers must plan their work to reduce risks; that's the joint message now coming from the HSA and the farm organisations. Last year, there was a particular emphasis being placed on older farmers in the 60-plus age group.

This approach was taken because in the past 10 years there have been 182 people killed on farms, with more than half of those accidents involving farmers over the age of 60.

With July proving to be such a deadly month, the silage making operation clearly needs attention. Plenty of space is needed around the farmyard for the kind of machinery that today's silage contractors have. Industrial-type loaders, 20ft trailers and even bigger forage wagons are the norm.

Where new facilities are being planned it is important to leave plenty of room for working in front of silage pits; 12-15m between silage pits and sheds is necessary from a safety point of view.

With modern safety standards and CE testing for any machine sold in Europe, there is no such thing as a new machine being sold in dangerous condition. However, there are thousands of farms on which operators will allow machines to deteriorate into a dangerous condition. We've all been guilty of it at some point. Sadly, the temptation to put off repairs or wait until the next milk cheque before replacing that worn PTO cover is even greater in leaner times.

As an example, let's take the standard PTO shaft cover on a tractor-powered implement such as a slurry spreader. If a farmer goes to his local dealer in the morning to buy a slurry spreader, it will come with a new PTO shaft cover and chain. The golden rule is that anything that moves on a machine has the potential to kill you.

This makes the PTO shaft cover one of the most effective - yet cheapest - forms of prevention. The shaft cover takes the danger out of that particular moving part of the machine provided it is both fully intact and chained to the tractor's PTO guard.

The chain prevents the cover itself from spinning so if the chain is broken or not in place, your cover is as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

An aspect that doesn't get as much attention are non-fatal farm accidents, of which each year there are about 2,500 reported.


These can be really life-changing injuries such as losing a hand or a leg as a result of a PTO entanglement. While not life-threatening, these are the kind of injuries that can effectively end a farmer's career.

With the benefit of hindsight, and knowing where exactly on the farm the riskiest areas are, there can be no excuses for 2014.

Make it the year when you, and those who work with you, reduce the chance of a serious accident on your farm.

Irish Independent