Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Ireland has one of the highest rates of hospital in-patient admissions from farm accidents

Dr Matthew Lee says state agencies and farm ­organisations need to develop new approaches to ­tackling the scourge of farm accidents

Trauma and orthopaedic surgeon Dr Matthew Lee has carried out extensive research on farm accident and fatality data. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Trauma and orthopaedic surgeon Dr Matthew Lee has carried out extensive research on farm accident and fatality data. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

Ken Whelan

A co-ordinated 'bottom up' approach to farm accidents has been demanded in the wake of the latest national survey into the issue.

The research carried out by trauma and orthopaedic surgeon Dr Matthew Lee, and published in the Irish Medical Journal, found that Ireland has one of the highest rates of hospital in-patient admissions due to farm accidents in Europe.

There were 2,087 in-patient admissions as a result of farm accidents in the 10 years from 2005 to 2014 - 187 of these were fatal.

Farmer accident admissions stabilised in some years under review and in some years declined but Dr Lee's study stresses that this slight fall in numbers should be matched against the decline in numbers actually farming in Ireland.

Dr Lee told the Farming Independent that attitudes to farm accidents in the general public, and the farming community in particular, will have to change if real improvements are to be made.

He said a "proactive and bottom-up culture" would have to be developed within the sector by both state agencies and farmers alike if the problem of farm accidents was to be addressed.

He said all public advertising campaigns should target farmers over 55 years of age, and farm family members under 17, who are especially at risk.

"There needs to be a bottom-up approach and cultural change to the way we view these accidents. The penetration of farm safety advertising campaigns remains a challenge," said Dr Lee.

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New measures to enforce safety compliance on farms and occupational measures within the sector would have to be devised if the hospital in-patients statistics were to be reduced, he warned.

Many members of the farming community who present at hospitals with injuries were more interested in "when they can get back to work" than with the treatment of their actual injuries, he pointed out.

There was also a different official view taken about these farm injuries in that they occurred on private land, Dr Lee added.

"The police are on the public roads to ensure compliance with road safety measures but the same does not exist on private farmland," Dr Lee pointed out.

He said there was anecdotal evidence from the insurance claims of the under-reporting of these accidents.

"We know we have a problem and what we should be doing is identifying the causes of these accidents and taking measures to prevent them," Dr Lee insisted.

Pat Griffin of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) said that a series of new measures were under consideration by the various government departments to tackle the farm injury situation. These measures included farm safety modules within the various knowledge transfer schemes operated by the Department of Agriculture's 600 accredited advisers nationwide.

In addition, he stressed that new money for farm safety advertising campaigns and joint campaigns with the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland were in the pipeline.

These campaigns would be rural specific and run through agri-industry publications as well as local press and radio stations.

Mr Griffin believes that the Teagasc knowledge transfer (KT) groups were possibly the best way to get the safety messages across.

The possibility of linking these KT courses to the farm payment - which is already occurring to an extent within the TAMS scheme - would also improve awareness of farm safety.

"You only have to look at the millions of bales of silage visible throughout the countryside to know they are all accidents which could happen," he said.

Vincent Nally of Irish Rural Link also agreed that farm safety courses should be linked to the farm payment, but added that he did not expect the farm organisations to support such a move.

He said the age profile and physical nature of farm work were contributing factors to accidents; as well as the fact that as sole traders, farmers were not covered by employment and work place directives.

Safety knowledge was the key to solving the problem and mandatory farm safety courses had to be linked to the farm payment, Mr Nally stressed.

He said similar safety schemes introduced in Sweden and Finland some years ago resulted in a decline in farm accidents, although farms there still account for a disproportionate number of workplace fatalities.

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