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News analysis - December 2018

10 December 2018

THE RECENTLY published report by The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland shows that while workplace fatalities in 2017-18 were down by 31% – to 11 compared to 16 in the previous year – farm-related fatalities increased by one, with seven deaths.

The UK Health and Safety Executive in October published its industry wide report and identified a very similar issue in agriculture. In the UK statistics the category covers agriculture, fishing and forestry so while not identical correlation, the picture reflects the same situation.

Agriculture fishing and forestry come out with the highest numbers in both workplace injury and workplace health incidents. This industry category comes out with figures which are higher than Construction, often regarded as the priority industry. Agriculture, fishing and forestry have much in common being inherently dangerous, and agriculture of course has the added hazard of management and handling of livestock. This is a major source of injury for farmers and farm workers. Agriculture itself can be a fragmented industry with many farms still family businesses often involving remote or lone working.

Apart from the physical hazards in agriculture there is also the threat posed by the use of chemicals. One threat that is often not widely appreciated is the danger posed by confined spaces on a farm and of course the added deadly threat from slurry gas. Slurry gas is one of the main causes of death on farms. Slurry gas is a mixture of gases produced by bacteria during the decomposition of slurry. The most dangerous is hydrogen sulphide which is extremely dangerous to both people and animals. In high concentration it knocks out the sense of smell causing disorientation and difficulty in breathing.

After only a few breaths collapse and death can occur! Tragically in recent years multiple deaths have occurred in families as responders seeking to help someone who has collapsed find themselves overcome as well. One breath can kill.

BSIF and its members have sought to make it clear that these tragedies can be avoided. By carrying a portable gas detection monitor – which is about the size of a cigarette packed the farmer would have been alerted to the danger. Agriculture and farming is as I said fragmented by nature but the need to communicate the safety message is paramount.