As of the end of October, there had been 16 deaths on Irish farms this year. This was compared with a total of 15 on-farm deaths during all of 2018.
Anthony Dineen, a Teagasc livestock adviser based in the Macroom office, organised a health and safety demonstration at Macroom Mart recently.
He said: “We wanted to highlight the risks associated with farms so we put this programme together. Outside of this, we also worked with a local national school to raise awareness of farm safety.
“We went out there because at a young age they are like sponges when it comes to soaking up information. It’s amazing what they know. They’re taking a lot in on their farms regarding safety.”
Included in the event were presentations on machinery, livestock handling and chainsaw safety.
The Garda Traffic Corps was also present and they focused on practical advice around licences and weight restrictions on towing livestock trailers.
Joe Cronin, of West Cork Development Partnership, also gave information on a new initiative on farmer wellbeing that will be rolled out over the next few months.
With a lot of cattle housed at this stage of the year and winter dosing taking place on farms, Francis Bligh, a health and safety specialist from Teagasc, encouraged farmers to assess their current handling and calving facilities.
“This time of the year, things are a little bit easier. We’d be encouraging farmers to take the time to look at the facilities they have,” he said.
For those spring calving, he recommended making any improvements that may be needed now rather than when calving starts.
To handle cattle safely, adequate facilities are needed. There are a lot of issues on out-farms particularly around crushes.
“Jobs such as moving cattle, bringing them in for yard work and other smaller tasks are made an awful lot easier if you have facilities. There are TAMS grants available for animal-handling facilities and I would encourage farmers to avail of them,” Bligh said.
Not all safety solutions require a major outlay of finance. Bligh suggested more economical changes that could be made that would have an impact on reducing risks involved in animal handling. The Teagasc health and safety specialist said choices farmers make around breeding time can help to make their farms safer places.
“Yes, we can have all sorts of excellent facilities but if the animals that we are dealing with have docility issues, they become a danger. At breeding, you’re making decisions that are going to make life easier on yourself in nine months’ time when the animal is born and throughout their life.”
He advised farmers who breed their own replacements to observe the temperament of any heifer calves they might retain as cows and cull those that are difficult.
“The bulls that are being selected, if it’s AI or the bull that is on the farm, are they breeding animals that are docile?
“If you’re using AI are you looking at the docility index to make sure that the next generation is easier to manage than the previous one. Don’t breed any dangerous cows no matter how good a calf she has.”
Farm machinery is one of the main contributors to both fatal and non-fatal farm accidents.
Dave Barry from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) gave a talk on the dangers associated with machinery. He focused on the three main types of equipment that account for the majority of machinery accidents reported on farms.
Tractors, loaders and slurry tanks make up the majority of farm accidents.
Of the 16 farm fatalities this year, 11 have involved tractors or machinery, with tractors responsible for six of these.
The HSA inspector highlighted the importance of PTO guards. “The three main machine killers found on the farm outside the tractor are the vacuum tanker, the slurry agitator and the diet feeder. The reason for this is when you get off the tractor the PTO is still running on these machines, so you’re interacting with a live PTO that’s where you can get caught.”
From his experience, he said: “The most dangerous job on the farm is the two-minute job. The one that you don’t even think about.
“You should ask yourself before you do any job, ‘can I get out of here?’ A lot of accidents are caused by people who are thinking about what they are going to do next, not what they are going to do now.”
Highlighting that most fatal falls occur from heights between 8ft and 13ft, he said the reason for this was: “When you fall, gravity pulls you down at a rate of 32ft/second. In half a second, you’re after falling 16ft, in quarter of a second you’re after falling 8ft and it takes you between a quarter and half a second to actually react. You never get to react. You hit the ground before you even realise you’ve fallen.”