Farming Accidents In Ireland

There are approximately 137,000 farms in Ireland with an average of 173,000 people employed in the agri-food sector. According to a 2018 Teagasc survey the average size of Irish farms is 43 hectares and employment in the sector accounts for 7.7% of total employment in the country. Farms are inherently busy and dangerous workplaces with the level of fatal accidents being far greater than in any other economic sector given the relatively small proportion of the farming workforce.

How do accidents occur on farms

The level of accidents on farms has been rising. In the ten years up to 2018 there was a 31% increase in farming accidents.  The Teagasc survey indicated that the majority of accidents occur on dairy farms, 42% of accidents involved livestock and 25% involved farm machinery and vehicles. Most fatal injuries on farms involving livestock are caused by cows and heifers followed by incidents involving bulls. Rolling vehicles are also a major cause of farming accidents with many fatal injuries resulting from being crushed, struck, pinned under or falling from a tractor or other type of farming vehicle. Trips and falls accounted for 13% of accidents with chainsaws and incidents in farm buildings accounting for 7% and 6% of farm accidents respectively. Falling objects and falls from a height are also the cause of many farm related accidents. The farmyard is the highest risk area where on average 64% of accidents occur,  19% of accidents occur in fields and 15% in farm buildings. The vast majority of accidents on a farm happen to the farmer or a family member with young children and elderly farmers being particularly at risk due to accidents on the farm.

The Law and Farms as places of work

The Health and Safety Authority (HAS) have published many useful guidelines and codes of practice on how to identify and mitigate the risk of injury in a farming environment. The vital message on farm safety is to ensure that everyone working on a farm is adequately trained, that vehicles and machinery are properly maintained and that safe work practices are put in place and properly enforced across the farm.

Legal duties of a farmer

There are a number of pieces of legislation that aim to protect the health and safety of those who work on farms. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 is the main piece of legislation that sets down the duties and obligations of farmers as employers.

Farmers have a general duty of care to their employees and are obliged to amongst other things:-

  • provide a safe place of work on the farm
  • ensure that safe work systems and procedures are in place
  • provide adequate training for workers
  • ensure that plant equipment and machinery is safe for use on the farm and properly maintained
  • provide personal protective equipment and clothing where necessary
  • provide adequate bathroom and washing facilities

Legal duties of farm employees

Farm employees also have a duty under the Act to amongst other things:-

  • co-operate with the employer so they can comply with the relevant legislation
  • use any personal protective clothing or equipment provided by their employer
  • not engage in any behaviour that would endanger their safety or the safety of anyone else working on the farm
  • attend training and undergo assessment where required

HSA powers

The HSA has the power under the 2005 Act to enter a farm as a place of work at ‘any reasonable time’  to ‘inquire into, search, examine and inspect’ that place of work. The powers of the HSA inspectors are extensive and they can serve an improvement notice on the farmer and also serve a Prohibition Notice requiring the immediate cessation of work where there is a breach of the Act which poses an imminent threat to health and safety. The HSA can also prosecute a farmer for non-compliance with the legislation. It is an offence under the Act to in any way obstruct an inspector in the course of their duties.

Farm Safety statements

Farmers are required as a matter of law to have a safety statement in writing that is made available to all farm employees and is also visible to everyone working on the farm. Farmers are required to identify the hazards present on the farm, assess the risk of injury associated with these hazards and identify and write out a plan to eliminate or control the hazards. The safety statement should be regularly updated as and when new machinery, vehicles or work practices are introduced. Farms with 3 employees or less are not required to prepare a safety statement however they are obliged to comply with the terms of the Agricultural Code of Practice.

Farmers need to be aware of their legal duty of care towards their employees. Legislation has evolved over time to give more protection to farm workers and they now have the same legal status as employees in any other sector of the economy. It is the responsibility of both farmers as employers and all those who work on farms to make themselves aware of the risks involved in any farm work they undertake and to do everything possible to reduce the number of accidents and potential personal injury claims on farms.

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, it has been provided for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Amorys Solicitors is a boutique commercial and private client law firm in Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland.
For further information and advice in relation to “Farming Accidents In Ireland”, please contact Daragh Burke, Amorys Solicitors, telephone 01 213 5940 or your usual contact at Amorys.

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