Getting help with difficult tasks may be a key to reducing farm accidents
Farming is the occupation with the highest risk of fatalities in Ireland, with a rate nearly ten times the average across occupations between 2009 and 2015. A new report titled Risk taking and Accidents on Irish Farms was completed as part of the ESRI and Health and Safety Authority (HSA) research programme, and was published by the ESRI today (24 May 2017). The report examines a number of different types of risks that farmers take and looks at whether they are associated with accidents or “near misses” on the farm. The authors draw on a survey of over 800 farmers commissioned by the HSA in 2013. The farmers in the study were all male self-employed farmers who had no regular paid employees.
The report examined risk taking in terms of failing to routinely take six different types of safety precautions, listed here in order of frequency:
- Getting help with difficult jobs (27%);
- Using safety gear, such as goggles, ear defenders, high-viz. vests (26%);
- Using power take-off (PTO) or machinery guards (12%);
- Checking that machinery is in good working order before use (11%);
- Using restraining or handling facilities when treating animals (8%);
- Keeping chemicals stored away from access by children (3%).
A statistical model took account of a number of factors at once in terms of their association with risk taking, such as farmer age, family status, farm size, and whether it was a dairy farm. The results showed that:
- Unmarried farmers were more likely to take risks in not checking machinery before use;
- Farmers with larger farms were more likely to take risks by not routinely using safety gear: the odds of this were nearly three times as high on the largest farms (more than 100 hectares) than on the smallest farms (less than 20 hectares);
- On the other hand, larger farmers were less likely to take risks in terms of tackling difficult jobs without help: the odds were roughly one third lower on the largest than on the smallest farms;
- Not storing chemicals out of reach of children – although the least common type of risk overall - was more likely on dairy farms and among part-time farmers;
- With other factors taken into account, differences by age and having children were not statistically significant. There was no association between risk taking and work stress.
Accidents and “Near Misses”
- Farmers were asked whether they or someone else had experienced an accident on their own farm in the previous ten years or whether they had personally experienced a near miss.
- Overall, 12 per cent of farmers in the survey were personally involved in an accident, 27 per cent had had a near miss and 8 per cent reported that someone else had been involved in an accident on their farm. Because the farms for the study were selected, the rate of accidents or near misses on the farms may be somewhat higher than the overall rate across all farms.
- Only half of the farmers who had experienced an accident reported subsequently changing something on the farm.
Factors associated with accidents or near misses
- Farmer accidents and near misses were both more common in larger farms.
- Not getting help was strongly associated with both accidents and near misses involving the farmer.
- Not checking machinery was significantly associated with accidents involving others and with near misses involving the farmer.
- When other factors, including risk taking, are controlled, there was no association between accidents or near misses and farmer age, family circumstances and farm type. There was a small tendency for part-time farmers to be more likely to report near misses but no significant relationship to actual accidents.
Dorothy Watson, an author of the report, commented:
“Farm safety is a critical issue. In the last seven years, 138 people have been killed in farm accidents, making farming the most dangerous occupation in terms of fatalities. The results of this report highlight the significance of getting help with difficult jobs and checking machinery in reducing the risk of accidents in farming. Future policies should emphasise the importance of getting help with difficult tasks on the farm, as the research indicated that failing to do so is associated with a higher risk of accidents and near misses.”
Martin O’Halloran, Chief Executive of the HSA stated:
“This research is important because it helps us to develop a deeper understanding of the mind-set of farmers and why unsafe practices are occurring. Once we understand what triggers risk taking on farms we can implement strategies that are appropriate, for the industry, and will bring about a sustained reduction in accidents."
 The sample of over 800 included 50 interviews with farmers specifically selected in counties with a high accident rate.