There were 24 work-related fatalities in the country’s agricultural sector in 2017 - accounting for more than half of the overall toll of 47 across all sectors, according to figures released by the country’s Health and Safety Authority (HSA).
It was the second year running that the deaths in agriculture had risen, with 21 deaths recorded in 2016 and 18 in 2015.
Liam Howe, Chair of the Ireland Branch of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), said the figure was of “serious concern”. He also highlighted that 14 of those killed in the sector were men aged over 65.
He said: “There has been a rise in the number of people employed in the Republic of Ireland, to two million, which is pleasing to see. It is crucial that systems are in place to ensure these people are kept safe and healthy, no matter what the sector.
“The number of deaths in agriculture is appalling. It is a high-risk sector, but that does not make it acceptable for people to be injured or killed at work.
“Many of those killed were men aged over 65. With the pension age rising, people will be working longer. This raises questions about how we look after an ageing working population.
“Sustained efforts are needed to support the sector. The HSA has done a lot of work, including farm safety courses and our branch has been involved in a lot of awareness raising, including our events. We intend to hold another event in the springtime this year.”
Aine English, Chair of IOSH’s Rural Industries Section of the Ireland Branch, said: “It is a complex sector, with a high number of elderly workers compared to others. With this in mind, the challenge is to actively support the HSA’s and The Farm Safety Partnership Committees Action Plan’s efforts to review future developments to reduce these figures.
“IOSH’s Rural Industries Group members in Ireland will explore all avenues to support the agricultural community to reduce farm fatalities.”
After agriculture, construction and transport had the next highest number of fatalities, with six each.
Across all sectors, accidents involving vehicles accounted for 21 deaths, with falls from height killing six people.
HSA Chief Executive Martin O’Halloran said: “Everyone involved in farming must aim to make whatever changes are necessary, to work practices, to stop these accidents occurring each year. That means safety must be paramount when carrying out any work, especially with tractors or farm machinery.
“We have over two million people at work and this is a positive development. However, this will lead to increased traffic and movement of vehicles in workplaces creating hazards that must be managed. Regardless of the sector, where we have people and vehicles moving in close proximity, the danger is elevated. These dangers are greatly reduced when everyone is aware of the hazards and safe systems of work are implemented.”