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January 3, 2013

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Irish farming deaths still high despite overall reduction in fatalities

The number of people killed in workplace accidents in Ireland dropped last year but fatalities increased in construction and fishing, and remained worryingly high in agriculture.

Figures released by the Irish Health and Safety Authority (HSA) today (3 January) reveal that 43 workers, two children and two members of the public died in work-related accidents in 2012. The total of 47 represents a 13-per-cent decrease on the previous year’s 54 deaths.

Deaths in the construction sector went up from six to eight, while the fishing industry recorded seven fatalities – two more than the previous year.

Agriculture was, for the third year in a row, Ireland’s most dangerous industry, with 21 deaths occurring last year – just one less than in 2011 – and representing 45 per cent of the overall total. Nine of the fatal incidents involved workplace transport, and seven of the victims were aged over 70. The youngest victim was a 12-year-old child, who was driving a tractor when it overturned.

HSA chief executive Martin O’Halloran said the high death toll in the sector was unfortunate, given the myriad efforts to improve performance in agriculture. He said: “We have run awareness campaigns, distributed guidance and tailored our inspection programme to help create a culture of safe farming. Some progress has been made but, unfortunately, last year 21 families lost loved ones due to farm accidents.

“Farms are family homes as well as workplaces, so farmers need to realise that safe farming is about protecting themselves, their family and their business.”

IOSH also expressed its concern and said there is a need for urgent improvement in standards in agriculture and fishing. The Institution’s Ireland Branch chair, Michelle Peate-Morgan, added: “These statistics give a terrible sense of déjà-vu. We have had almost 120 work-related fatalities in the sector in the last five years, with 28 of those in 2012 alone.

“Clearly, we have farms and fisheries in Ireland that have a very critical need to improve their health and safety standards.

“We would like to see more funding from government to enable the Authority to broaden education, awareness and enforcement for our agriculture sector – including those small, family-run farms.”

Sectors that saw a reduction in fatalities were transportation and storage – it recorded one death in 2012, compared with seven the previous year – and there were no deaths in the mining and quarrying industry, down from one in 2011.

In terms of non-fatal injuries, some 7000 are reported to the HSA each year, with the health and social-work sector experiencing a particularly high number this year. Commenting on this, Mr O’Halloran said: “Incidents involving manual handling and slips, trips and falls tend to be the most common causes of injury. We’re now halfway through our five-year plan to reduce work-related accidents and ill health in this sector and will continue to work with the relevant bodies to help address the key hazards.”

The Authority will reveal its programme of work for 2013 later this month but it has already stated its intention to continue a high level of inspection in the construction industry, and work with the Irish Road Safety Authority and police to increase awareness of the hazards associated with workplace vehicles, which accounted for 19 deaths last year.

Concluded Mr O’Halloran: “Ireland is highly rated when occupational safety performance is benchmarked against that of our EU partners, so this year the EU presidency will give us an opportunity to show leadership and tackle issues that affect workers across the EU.”

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