Farming is the most dangerous occupation in Ireland. Last year, it accounted for over 50% of fatalities in all workplaces, FBD’s Ciaran Roche said at a recent farm safety demonstration in Mullingar.

“We are working in a dangerous environment and we need to be careful,” he said.

The number one cause of death on Irish farms is tractors and machinery. This is followed by livestock-related fatalities, falling from heights and slurry. However, the main causes of accidents are slips and falls.

Citing statistics, FBD’s Myles Reilly explained that it’s the old and the young that are most vulnerable in the farming sector. During a nine-year period, 66 older farmers lost their lives.

He said: “Any death is horrific. However, the death of a child is extra poignant and there have been 23 children lost during that same period.

The most important asset on the farm is the farmer and it is only right that we protect that. We are the best at what we do in Europe. We produce the best beef, milk and grain. But we need to get better at health and safety.

The FBD representatives also stated that when the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) inspects farms and farmyards, it is looking at cattle handling facilities, tractors, machinery and slurry safety.

Main causes of machinery injuries and deaths:

  • Operator;
  • Environmental conditions;
  • Tractor or machinery condition;
  • Systems of work.

Ciaran outlined that the operator of the machine is sometimes the root of the problem. It may happen as a result of many factors, including: tiredness; stress; and ability. He also stated that accidents happen when operators suffer a lapse in concentration.

A lot of accidents also happen with contractors and young drivers. It is sometimes the case that they don’t understand the machine’s capabilities. It can also happen when older operators are not familiar with new technology.

Myles added: “We now have tractors that have 60kph gearboxes. We then throw a 16-year-old boy into it. Throw a mobile phone into the equation and what you’ve got is a lethal weapon. We need to ensure that drivers are capable of operating these machines.

“Another important safety aspect on a tractor is the handbrake. Farmers must ensure that this is fully operational,” he explained.

Myles Reilly and Ciaran Roche

They also discussed the issue of an unguarded PTO. On this, Myles said: “I think we should nearly be embarrassed at this stage to pull up to our local co-op and not have the PTO guarded.

“Don’t take chances. That’s what kills people. Nobody goes out in the morning to farm unsafely. But, we do need to change our attitude,” he concluded.