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November 12, 2010

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Irish government demands action on high rate of farming fatalities

The Irish minister with responsibility for safety, along with the safety regulator and the country’s food and agriculture authority, have appeared before a government committee to explain the high rates of death and injury in the Irish farming sector.

Minister for Labour Affairs, Dara Calleary TD told members of the Oireachtas (parliament) Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on Tuesday (9 November) that Ireland has “a critical situation on [its] hands in relation to farm safety”.

Mr Calleary, together with representatives of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and Teagasc, were questioned by the committee on the high incidence of fatalities in agriculture and related sectors. So far this year, more than half the work-related deaths recorded in the Republic (23) have been in agriculture – 19 of them on farms and four in other farm-based occupations. This is more than double the number of fatalities recorded by the sector for the whole of 2009, when there were 10 deaths.

The minister told the committee that the major causes of death were machinery (49 per cent), livestock (15 per cent), drowning/gas (14 per cent) and falls (10 per cent). Despite the efforts of the HSA and others to spread the farm-safety message, he said, these “frightful” numbers persist because things are still being done as they always have been.

He explained: “We need a culture of safety on farms. We don’t have it to the extent that we should. But culture change is challenging. It doesn’t happen overnight and no one person or body can effect it. The Health and Safety Authority, on its own, can’t do it, nor can Teagasc. We need a collective effort, and that is why I am here today.”

The minister went on to call on “all arms of government”, as well as Ireland’s main farming organisations, to help change behaviours in the agriculture sector.

Committee chairman, Johnny Brady TD, echoed this call, saying: “The numbers revealed to us today are both upsetting and alarming. Everyone involved in working in the farming industry must make safety the priority. It is also incumbent on agencies, such as the HSA and Teagasc, to effectively communicate the farm-safety message. The committee intends to liaise with the HSA on a regular basis to get updates on initiatives being taken to tackle this most serious of problems.”

The regulator’s chief executive, Martin O’Halloran, explained that the HSA has carried out some 1700 inspections in the agriculture sector so far this year. He said: “Next year we plan to increase the inspection level to 3000. About 30 per cent of inspections are to give advice, encouragement and support, pointing out the correct practices to achieve safety. About 40 per cent give written advice and, in 12 per cent of cases, the situation is so serious it requires the inspector to issue formal enforcement actions under the provisions of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.”

Mr O’Halloran went on to outline progress on the Farm Safety Partnership’s action plan, with which, he said, there has been “positive and encouraging engagement” among the farming community.

Representing farming authority Teagasc, Jim McNamara explained that an evaluation of the farm safety code carried out in conjunction with the HSA revealed that just over three-quarters of farmers were complying with it. He said: “There is further work to be done on approximately a quarter of farms. Teagasc programmes are in place to assist farmers to improve the management of health and safety on farms.

“The key issue is engagement by farmers, and that the information is pitched at a level where they can absorb the message and act on it. While 76 per cent of farmers are engaging in that process, the challenge for Teagasc is to ensure all farmers engage in the process on an ongoing basis.”

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13 years ago

Traditionally the farming community in Ireland have paid little more than lip service to H&S. It’s generally viewed by the farming community as costly and therefore a waste of time.Ireland has 2 large farming organisations and they seem soley entrenched on how much money they can get out of the Irish Govt. and the EU on various schemes. If they channelled more time into carrying out Risk Asessments and safe work practices they would be a lot better off and farm accidents and fatalities reduced.