Belfast Telegraph

Safety must be top priority for all farmers

Editor's Viewpoint

Farming is not only Northern Ireland's most widespread industry, it is also the most dangerous, claiming 33 lives since 2013. The causes of death fall into four main categories: machinery, animals, slurry and falls.

Given the amount of machinery on a farm, much of it high-powered and potentially lethal if not treated with respect and well maintained, it is not surprising that 14 of these deaths were due to accidents involving equipment.

Victor Chestnutt, vice president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, tells how inattention around animals can easily lead to death or injury. In his case, he was lucky when gored by a Highland cow.

Like so many farmers, he knew his animals and knew that this particular one was dangerous, but he believed he could stay out of harm's way.

He was wrong and it nearly cost him his life. Since 2013, 10 other farmers have not been so fortunate.

We have seen several high-profile cases of farmers dying from the lethal gases given off by slurry, especially when it is mixed prior to being spread on the land. Falls into slurry tanks and from heights are other dangers.

Farms are dynamic environments where many things are happening every day. Whether it is driving machinery over difficult terrain, repairing high buildings, keeping an eye on dangerous animals or ensuring that slurry tanks are well maintained and safe, farmers have a myriad of dangers to watch out for.

As in the case of Mr Chestnutt, complacency can be the enemy. A farmer may have done all the required tasks innumerable times over the years but maybe doesn't quite realise that advancing years or the worsening state of buildings or machinery can make it more difficult to cope with the problems which arise.

It is no coincidence that the majority of those who have died in the past five years have been aged over 65.

We often think of farmers as being very affluent, but many have big bank loans, are operating on very tight margins and often are working alone.

That confluence of factors can lead in some instances to necessary repairs to buildings or equipment being put off or shortcuts taken - with fatal consequences.

As well as the deaths, 100 people a month are injured on farms, which makes the Farm Safety Week initiative not only welcome, but imperative, and the messages from the Health and Safety Executive must be heeded.

Belfast Telegraph

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