SINCE mid-November there have been four people killed on Irish farms, with 19 deaths in total so far this year – including one in County Limerick.
In March, a man died while cutting hedges near Athea. It is understood he was electrocuted when machinery he was using came into contact with power cables.
Minister for Employment and Small Business, Pat Breen voiced his alarm at the spike in farm deaths in recent weeks at a farm safety walk in Kilrush this Monday.
“No other sector is experiencing that level of fatal accidents and it is greatly concerning to me that so many families are losing loved ones due to work activity. I would appeal to farmers to take some time to consider the risks in every job they do and to work out a plan to manage the hazards before they start work.
“Farming is a way of life as well as an industry and we must remember that it is not the farmer that is at risk, but family members too. I believe that we must all work together, as a community along with the HSA and Teagasc, to reduce these tragedies. Farm safety walks are an excellent example of this, they encourage farmer-to-farmer learning and promote safer farming,” said Minister Breen, on the land of Martin Fennell.
The event, organised by the HSA and Teagasc, was designed to give local farmers an opportunity to learn first-hand about the practicalities of safety. It allowed farmers to see and discuss good practice, while learning how to minimise the risk of accidents to themselves and their families.
Limerickman John McNamara, national health and safety specialist with Teagasc, said that Knowledge Transfer (KT) is becoming important in all aspects of farming.
“Farm walks and knowledge transfer groups are about establishing networks so farmers can learn from each other. They are integral to much of what we, in Teagasc, are working towards,” said Mr McNamara.
There were four key areas addressed - tractors and machinery, livestock handling, farm buildings and slurry management. During the walk farmers were given advice and information on risks around tractor use, changing and maintaining PTO guards, vehicle safety including a safe stop procedure and the additional risks involved when carrying out maintenance work. Examples of good practice, such as yard layout and lighting, cattle handling facilities and adequate calving facilities, were also on show.
Farmers were encouraged to take more care when working at height, to use the appropriate equipment such as a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) and not to take risks particularly while carrying out maintenance on fragile roofs. The importance of removing livestock and only carrying out slurry agitation on a windy day was also emphasised.
Professor Jim Phelan, chair of the Farm Safety Partnership, called on farmers to commit to making changes in how they approach farm safety.
“These events give the HSA and Teagasc an opportunity to meet with farmers in one location and give practical advice on farm safety. We know that farmers are receptive to the message that safety is vital, but we need to see that manifest in how they approach their work. Safety is not something you just talk about, it is something you must build into your work every day,” said Mr Phelan. One of the most frightening statistics is in the last ten years almost half (48%) of all farm deaths have involved tractors and machinery.