Health and safety on the farm
Every week we hear of an on farm death or a near miss. The real danger is that we are becoming immune to hearing these stories and it doesn’t shock us as much as it used to.
In this blog I’m going to share some of the facts around farm accidents and look at recommended tips that farmers can work on in order to improve safety on their farm.
- Almost half of all workplace fatalities in Ireland occur in farming.
- Children and the elderly are particularly at risk.
- 50% of all farm deaths now involve over 65s and 20% of fatalities involve children.
- Tractors account for the highest proportion of fatalities and accidents each year.
- The causes of vehicle accidents include being crushed, struck, pinned under or falling from the vehicle.
- Poor operation of vehicles particularly when reversing is another main cause of fatalities.
- Over 3,000 serious injuries occur on Irish farms every year.
What you need to know
There is a lot to learn about farm safety. Some of the most common causes of accidents result from falls, contact with moving machinery or equipment, livestock, particularly bulls, and drowning. These are what are known as hazards, something that could cause harm. You need to be vigilant when visiting a farm and stay clear of any hazards, unless properly supervised and instructed.
- If you are working on a farm you must be properly instructed about the work activities and the associated risks and how to avoid them.
- You must also know what to do in an emergency.
- Be careful around machinery and equipment.
- Machinery can be noisy and the person operating them may not know you are nearby.
- Beware of anything stacked up in piles, e.g. bales of hay or tractor tyres.
- These can topple over and crush you so stay clear!
- Give animals lots of space. They may become agitated or excited particularly when they are protecting their young or being moved.
- Wash your hands regularly, and particularly after contact with animals or their housing and feedstuffs.
- Watch where you go and keep away from slurry tanks or water ponds.
Slurry presents two particular safety and health problems – drowning and gas poisoning. Drowning is by far the most common cause of death involving slurry. Children and the elderly are at particular risk. In the period 2000-2010, 30% of child fatal accidents on farms were caused by drowning in slurry or water. In the same period 8% of deaths to elderly farmers were caused by drowning.
Smell is no indicator of the absence of gas, as many gases are odourless. Hydrogen sulphide has a ‘rotten egg’ smell at low levels, but cannot be smelt at higher levels. High levels can be released when slurry is agitated. One breath or lung-full at this level causes instant death.
- Open slurry tanks should be protected by an unclimbable fence or wall at least 1.8 metres high, with locked gates
- When the tank has to be emptied, consider having an adequately constructed access platform with safety rails
- Covered or slatted tanks require access manholes that children cannot open easily. Fit a safety grid below the manhole to give secondary protection. All slurry tanks should be adequately fenced
- Evacuate all livestock and make sure no person or animal is in or near the building
- Do not allow slurry to rise within 300mm of the slats or tank covers.
- Avoid smoking and naked flames as the gas mixture can be highly flammable.
- Never enter a tank for any reason – gases can build up and remain in partially emptied tanks above the slurry.
- Never enter the slurry tank or any confined space unless you are wearing suitable breathing apparatus and/ or a harness attached to a lifeline controlled by at least two other adults positioned outside of the area.
- Put up warning signs to warn of the dangers when working with slurry.
- Scrape holes on outdoor lagoons should be adequately protected.
- Cover all slurry tank manhole openings.
- Beware of the risk of back injury if you need to lift slats in the shed.
- Agricultural contractors must be aware of the dangers of working with slurry and should ensure that they work safely at all times.
- Use outdoor agitation points where possible – one lung-full of slurry gas can kill.
- Only agitate where there is good air movement.
- Evacuate and ventilate before you agitate.
- Open all doors and outlets to provide a draught.
- Avoid vigorous agitation in confined spaces.
- At least two people should be present and should stand up-wind.
- Keep all people away from the agitation point for 30 minutes after starting agitation.
- Keep children and elderly persons away from the area when agitating.
- Never stand over slats or near tank access points when agitation is in progress.
- Guard the PTO on the slurry tanker and agitator– do not use unless correctly guarded. A high proportion of PTO entanglements occur when using slurry tankers
- You should not engage in farm activities unless supervised by a responsible adult.
- Report any defective equipment to a responsible adult.
- Never operate a vehicle or machine if it is unsafe to do so, e.g. problem with brakes, broken mirror, and lights not working.
- You must be 14 years old or over to operate a tractor or mechanically propelled machine on the farm.
- You should attend a formal training course run by a competent training provider, and receive adequate instruction in the safe operation of the particular tractor or mechanically propelled machine you are driving and fully understand the purpose of all the controls and the effect of their improper use.
- Never carry passengers on a farm vehicle unless a seat is provided. FRS Training have a Safe Tractor Skills (14-16 year olds) course.
- You must be over 16 years of age to drive a tractor on a public road.
- The rules of the road should be consulted for road usage.
- Always wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes items such as gloves, dust masks, ear muffs and a suitable helmet if operating a quad.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. You may need to be over 16 to operate a quad.
It has to be remembered at all times that the farm is not a playground for children and that children need to be supervised at all times.
There are dangers in all areas of the farm and it is vitally important that farmers are firstly aware of these dangers and take the proper precautions at all times.
Teaching the young farmers of today at school level is vitally important, so that the generations of farmers that are coming up are more safety aware.
If every farmer stops and thinks of what they are doing and if they are doing it safely we could prevent a lot of on farm deaths.