New ESRI Farm Accident report discloses some interesting statistics
The report prepared by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) provides an analysis of risk taking and accidents on Irish Farms. It discloses that the agricultural, fishing and forestry sector in Ireland has the highest rate of both fatal and non-fatal work-related injuries compared to other sectors (Health and Safety Authority (HSA), 2016).
Understanding the correlation between farm accidents and risk taking
In 2013 the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) commissioned a nationwide research study to examine farm safety issues. The study involved a postal survey of farmers selected at random from the HSA database of farms. Findings were presented in a report focusing on descriptive results regarding intentions to work safely, published in 2014 (HSA, 2014).
The ESRI study involves an in-depth analysis of the same survey data, but goes beyond the original report in calibrating the data to represent all farms and conducting detailed statistical analysis to identify the most important factors related to risk taking and how this is linked to accidents on farms and attempted to answer the following questions:
- Do the characteristics of the farmer (age, marital status, full time/part time work status, years’ experience) and the size of the farm influence the farmer’s attitude to risk taking?
- Do work stress and level of distress affect the farmer’s attitude to risk taking?
- Are ‘near misses’ influenced by farmer and farm characteristics?
Suggested implications/implementations for health and safety policies on farms
The report points to a number of possible implications for health and safety policy and practice on farms:
Getting help with difficult tasks
As farmers tend to work alone on most task, it is clear that there is a need for a support system in place that enables farmers to reach out and call on additional resources to help them in carrying out difficult tasks. The study showed that one in four farmers do not reach out and ask for help when they are carrying out a difficult task – this is one form of risk taking and does contribute to farm accidents and near misses. In order to develop such a support system to help reduce this kind of risk taking, the report suggests that further study and more information is needed on the what types of tasks are considered difficult, what kind of assistance is needed and from there more specific recommendations can be made.
Failure to check machinery before use has been identified in the report as a cause of farm accidents and near misses. One way in which this type of risk can be emphasised is for safety messages to put more of an emphasis on checking machinery before use. Although this kind of risk taking happens less than the above, the study showed that one in eight farmers take this risk.
The study showed that young farmers were more likely to take risks, and suggested it to be related to their age and farm size. One suggested measure to combat this type of risk for more prominent safety messages to be directed at young farmers to prompt them to check machinery, use safety gear, use PTO guards and to get help when carrying out difficult tasks. It is thought that younger farmers are more likely to have taken health and safety courses and it is suggested that these safety messages be more strongly emphasised during their training.
Storage of chemicals
The report suggests that dairy farmers are more likely to take risks with regards to the storage of chemicals and that directing safety messages on proper storage of chemicals to dairy farmers could reduce the amount of farmers who take this risk.
The report suggests that larger farms are associated with a greater risk of accidents and near misses involving the farmer, even controlling for other characteristics and risk taking. The results of the study do not clarify or give reason for this and need to be examined further. However, the report suggests that this is related to the volume of work that needs to be carried out on these larger farms and the distance that the farmer needs to travel to get safety equipment when carrying out tasks.
Fatalities as a result of farm accidents
In addition to high fatality rates, the report shows that the agricultural, fishing and forestry industry has one of the highest non-fatal work injury rates when compared to other industries. Further to this the agricultural sector was found to have much higher worker fatality rate compared to other sectors and the nonfatal injuries in this sector have tended to fluctuate in the past number of years.
Lost Days as a result of accidents
The study had examined the amount of days lost due to farm accidents in each sector and found that although, between 2010 and 2014 the agricultural sector has the second highest rate injuries causing days off (34 per 1000 workers – the rate across all other sectors was 22) in 2014*, 51 per 1000 workers from the agricultural sector had a work related injury. This means that the agricultural sector has the highest rate of non-fatal injuries for that year
*2014 is the year from which the most recent figures were available.
Causes of injury and fatality in the agricultural sector
The report suggests that the hazardous nature of agricultural work, coupled with the potential danger that is ever present in the farming environment have contributed to the high injury and fatality rates in the agriculture environment.
The studies suggest that injury and fatality on farms in the agricultural sector are related to the high number and wide ranging tasks that the farmers must carry out in various locations around the farm. The aspects combined with the presence of potentially dangerous animals, chemical, machinery, farm buildings and equipment increase the risk factor on these farms.
HSA studies have shown that from 2006 to 2015;
- 29% of deaths in the agricultural sector were caused by tractors and farm vehicles
- 19% of fatal farm accidents were caused by machinery.
- 17% per cent of farm deaths are as a result of falls from a height, falling objects, and collapses, and;
- 14% per cent of fatal farm accidents are attributed to livestock, in particular cows and bulls.
Data from the Reagasc Farm Safety Survey shows us the percentage causes of non-fatal accidents on farms as:
- 42% of accidents relate to slips, trips, and falls
- 33% of accidents relate to livestock
- 11% of non-fatal accidents relate to machinery
Suggested policy discussions arising from the findings of the report
The report provides interesting reading and suggests a number of valuable policy discussions that could take place to help reduce the number of farm accidents and risks being taken:
Help with difficult tasks
The results of the report showed that 27% (one quarter) of farmers do not ask for help with difficult tasks on a regular basis Performing difficult tasks alone increases the risk of an accident. The report suggests that this type of risk taking needs to be addressed to reduce the number of fatalities and non-fatal accidents on farms.
Ways in which the report suggest farmers ask for help is that it can be done informally, by asking a family member, friend or neighbour. Farmers can also get help with tasks in a more formal manner by hiring somebody to do the job with them.
The issue of not asking for help and carry out difficult tasks alone seems to be particularly pressing on the smaller farms where failure to get help with tasks is an issue or not having the financial capacity to hire somebody are associated with high levels of mental distress.
A further study and more information are needed in order to address this issue.
The finds of the study showed that one in every eight farmers does not routinely check farm machinery before use. This increases the risk of accidents to themselves and others and increases cases of near misses. This finding could continue to be emphasised in safety messages directed towards farmers.
The study found that younger farmers were more likely to take risks as a result of their age and farm size and type. In an attempt to reduce the risk of accidents involving young farmers safety messages directed at young farmers need to be developed in areas such as wearing safety gear, properly storing chemicals and working with animals. The study also showed that young farmers who were single were inclined to take more risks with regards to not checking machinery. A suggested course of action from the report is to make safety a more prominent part of a young farmers training.
The report found that dairy farmers were more likely to take risks with regards to the storage of chemicals out of reach of children. The suggested course of action from the report is to emphasis safety of chemical storage among dairy farmers.
The report showed us that of all the types of risks associated with farming that the only kind of risk taking that increased for larger farms was using safety gear on the farm. The report concluded that the reason for this was because the farmer may have to travel to a large farm to get their safety gear. The suggested steps from the report to take are that measures are put in place to ensure that safety gear for particular tasks is always quickly and easily accessible to encourage people not to conduct their farm duties without it.
One aspect which may need further scrutiny is the relationship between larger farms and accident and it is questioned whether a larger farm leads to a faster pace of work which could be a cause of accidents or injury to the farmer.
How can these suggested safety measures be implemented among farmers?
Suggested Dissemination strategies
The reports suggest that one way of spreading awareness to farmers is to make use of discounts offered by insurance companies to farmers who adopt certain safety practices that help to reduce farm accidents, injuries, and death. A farms safety statement is one such tool that can be used to help move this suggestion to fruition. A farm is required by law to have a farm safety statement but one specific method suggested by the report is to link the safety statement to the application for farm insurance renewal. This a potential means to reinforce the content of the safety statement, Further to this, the completion of a safety checklist when renewing insurance could also be a useful tool for raising awareness about farm safety.
Other suggested strategies contained in the report are to link insurance discounts to participation in a farm safety ‘refresher’ courses and produce summaries of research findings in an accessible, non-technical format, as is the plan for this report.
Click here to read the full report published by the ESRI.