Farmers often think they are invincible in their own farmyard, yet the number of accidents shows the reality of the situation on family farms. According to the most recent Teagasc National Farm Survey, 11% of respondents experienced an accident causing injury on their farm over the five-year period 2012-2017. The data indicates that there were 2,814 farm accidents in 2017, a 13% increase on the 2011 figure.
Figure 1 illustrates the steady rise in farm accidents since 2006 in particular, and reflects an increase of over 800 farm accidents in 2017 compared with the previous decades. Figure 2 shows the types of farm accidents that occurred between 1996 and 2017. Each survey point relates to the occurrence of accidents in the five years previous, so the 2017 figures relate to the period 2012-2017. Over this period the data indicates that 42% of accidents involved livestock, with farm vehicles or machinery cited in a further 25% of accidents. Trips or falls resulted in a further 13% of farm accidents over the period, with chainsaws accounting for 7% and a further 6% involving farm buildings.
What type of accidents are livestock-related accidents? This can vary substantially from farmers working with cows and newborn calves, to stock bulls, and areas where animal are being loaded or moved from farm to farm. The increasing proportion of accidents involving livestock over time is evident, with a 20 percentage point increase from 1996 to 2017.
Similarly, the proportion of accidents involving machinery more than doubled from 2011 to 2017. On the other hand, a marked decline in the proportion of accidents due to trips and falls is evident over the same period. However, it should be noted that some accidents previously categorised as such were attributed to buildings in the 2017 survey. Trips and falls still make up a large part of accident type on sheep farms as there is a lot more on-your-feet-type work involved in relation to ewes – weighing lambs, drafting lambs etc.
Data from the survey indicates that the vast majority of on-farm accidents (92%) involved family members. According to respondents, 80% of the accidents occurring over the period 2012-2017 involved the farmer, with 12% involving the spouse or other family member. The remaining accidents over the period involved workers (5%) and others (3%).
Location of injury
According to the survey, almost two-thirds of farm accidents occurred in the farmyard (64%) and a further 15% in farm buildings. Almost one-fifth of accidents (19%) were in fields, with only 2% on farm roadways or lanes.
Medical treatment required
Almost all of the reported farm accidents (97%) required medical treatment, according to the survey, with 73% of victims attending hospital, a further 19% a doctor and 4% requiring first aid. Tragically, 1% of such accidents resulted in a fatality.
In terms of the impact of such accidents, almost one-third (30%) resulted in the victim being out of work for more than a month, with 21% reporting an absence of more than two months. On the other hand, almost one-fifth (17%) reported that the accident did not result in them taking time off. A similar proportion (18%) reported a work absence of one to three days, with 22% reporting a slightly longer recovery period of four to 10 days and 13% of those involved in farm accidents out of work for between 11 and 30 days.
Accident occurrence by system
Figure 3 indicates that accidents are most prevalent on dairy farms, with 18% of them reporting an accident over the period 2012-2017.
However, taken together the cattle systems reported a figure close to this (17%).
Accidents occurred on 12% of tillage farms over the period, with the figure marginally lower on sheep farms at 11%.
In attempting to assess the causal factors, it is striking that almost two-thirds (65%) of accidents on cattle-rearing farms involved livestock, with the proportionate figure on cattle-finishing farms also very high at 56%.
Livestock-related accidents still accounted for the largest proportion of accidents on dairy farms over the period 2012-2017, although the figure was substantially lower at 37%.
Almost a quarter of all accidents on dairy farms involved farm vehicles or machinery, with the corresponding figure on sheep farms one-third.
Twenty-eight per cent of accidents on both cattle finishing and tillage farms were accounted for by machinery.
More than one-quarter of accidents on sheep farms were due to trips/falls, a figure not generally reported across the other systems.
42% of all farm accidents (fatal and non-fatal) involve livestock. The risk is particularly high when attending cows at or post-calving and when handling bulls.
Golden rules when handling cattle: Use well-designed facilities (an investment in your safety). Facilities should include a suitable cattle crush, sculling gate and calving gate.Make sure the handlers are experienced, competent and sufficiently agile for the class of livestock being handled. Cull fractious and difficult cattle as soon as possible.Ensure bulls are fitted with a nose ring and chain.
Farm buildings must be maintained in a safe condition to ensure the safety of the users of the buildings and the buildings themselves. They should be inspected regularly and especially before and after extreme weather conditions. On foot of these inspections, maintenance and repair work must be carried out as appropriate.
Building work can be very dangerous, especially work at height and because of this it is essential that farmers and contractors carry out work in a safe manner. With this in mind, FBD, Teagasc and the HSA have produced a practical guidance booklet on safe farm building practices. The guidelines highlight the major building hazards and the practical preventive measures that need to be taken to prevent serious accidents and fatalities.
Falls from heights are the main cause of serious and fatal injury associated with maintenance and repair work of farm buildings. It is essential that every precaution is taken to ensure the safety of all persons working at height. It must be ensured that:All work at height is properly planned, organised, supervised and carried out safely. The place where work at height is done is safe. All work at height takes account of weather conditions.Those involved in work at height are instructed and trained.Equipment for work at height is carefully selected and appropriately inspected.Collective protection measures (eg guard rails) take priority over personal protection measures (eg safety harnesses); The risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled.Injury from falling objects is prevented.
When carrying out work at height, always ensure there is a safe means of access. If a ladder is used, ensure it is in good condition, footed, secured at the top, and extends at least 1m above the roof access level. Use appropriate crawl or roof ladders and always have a system of fall prevention or fall protection in place. For more extensive work at height, the use of scaffold or a mobile elevated work platform may be more appropriate. Never use the buckets or forks of lifting machines as a means of access to height.
Complex and extensive work should be left to the specialist contractors.
Data on farm accidents were collected Through the Teagasc National Farm Survey (NFS) in 2017, involving recall of accidents over the previous five-year period, this was the fifth such study undertaken since 1991. As well as reporting the overall level of accidents over the period 2012-2017, the aim of the survey was to ascertain further the causes or contributory factors associated with farm accidents as well as identifying those most at risk with a view to assisting with future policy design and farm safety promotion.
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