Farm Safety Must be a Priority

ANALYSIS - The tragic death of three members of a farming family in Northern Ireland is a harsh reminder of the dangers of working in agriculture, writes Charlotte Johnston, ThePoultrySite editor.
calendar icon 20 September 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

The tragic death of three members of a farming family in Northern Ireland is a harsh reminder of the dangers of working in agriculture.

Over the weekend, three members of the Spence family died in an accident on their farm in Hillsborough, County Down.

The two brothers and father died after falling into a slurry tank. It is thought that one brother and father had fallen in after trying to rescue their dog, and the other brother, Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence and his sister fell in whilst trying to help the other two. The sister was treated at the scene and taken to hospital to recover from the effects of fume inhalation.

A statement from inspectors of the Health and Safety Executive in Northern Ireland (HSENI) said: “From HSENI’s initial investigations, it understands that the three family members, who entered an underground slurry tank, died from the effects of exposure to slurry gases.”

Despite deaths of this nature occuring every year, to lose three members of one family has hit the farming industry hard. The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has said that many farmers have contacted the organisation to discuss farm safety following on from this accident.

Farming unions from the UK and Ireland have expressed their deepest sympathies to the Spence family.

Adam Quinney, Vice President of the National Farmers' Union said: “This type of accident happens all too often and is a stark reminder of the dangers of working with slurry. We don’t know the precise causes of the accident, but we urge farm businesses to review the safety equipment that is available next to slurry tanks for use in emergencies.”

Over the last 10 years, 455 people have died in accidents on British farms and 1,700 were seriously injured. Forty-two of those deaths happened last year.

The most common causes of accidents are handling livestock, working at height and operating machinery.

This week is National Farm Safety and Health Week in the US, where farmers are being reminded that the safety of family members is just as important as that of hired workers, although it is sometimes taken for granted when people have grown up on a farm.

With harvest now underway in the US, farmers are being urged to think hard about safety on farm.

According to the National Safety Council, if all tractors were equipped with a ROPS and a safety belt around 350 lives would be saved each year, as most tractor fatalities are caused by overturns.

Health and safety is often a subject which is overlooked and dismissed on farm, however, this week's tragedy should be a stark reminder that health and safety must be a priority.

Charlotte Johnson

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