Farmers warned about hidden dangers from confined spaces on farms

Tuesday 17th September 2019

Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen TD, today officially opened the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) Farm Safety exhibit at the National Ploughing Championships in Ballintrane, Fenagh, County Carlow.

At the event, Minister Breen launched a new HSA publication on ‘Confined Spaces in Agriculture’, which explains the dangers associated with confined spaces and sets out practical steps on how to prevent life threatening incidents.

Minister Breen said the exposure to dangerous gases in confined spaces such as in a grain silo, slurry pit or storage tank is a real risk in modern farming.

“Farming is still the most dangerous job in Ireland with an average of 21 deaths a year in workplace incidents and 207 farming fatalities in the last decade (2009-2018). While there have been some improvements with 15 farm related deaths in 2018, every death is one too many, and leads to devastation for the loved ones and communities left behind. I would urge all those involved in working on farms to read the HSA’s new publication and to familiarise themselves with the dangers of working in confined spaces.”

There have been nine deaths in confined spaces on Irish farms in the last five years.  On foot of a request from the coroner into one of these fatalities in a bulk storage tank, the HSA compiled this new publication to help farmers identify confined spaces on their farms, and to warn farmers of the possible risks of exposure to dangerous gases in confined spaces.

HSA Chief Executive Officer Dr Sharon McGuinness said any confined space on a farm poses a potentially life-threatening hazard but the threat may not be apparent until it's too late.

“We are very concerned that farmers generally don’t recognise or consider the dangers of confined spaces.

“Confined spaces such as silos, vats, tanks, wells, slurry pits and other enclosed or partly enclosed structures, can very quickly lead to suffocation and death if a person is exposed to dangerous vapours, toxic gases, dust or low oxygen levels.

“The safest approach with any confined space is to avoid going in there in the first place. If work must be done in a confined space, it should only be carried out by trained professionals.

“The message we want people to take away from our exhibit is that these places are not somewhere people should work or children should play,” Dr McGuinness concluded.

With 14 confirmed farm fatalities so far this year, the HSA will be providing live safety demonstrations at the ploughing championship on key issues to help reduce farm fatalities and injuries.

The exhibit area on the HSA Ploughing Stand will feature vehicle safety, machinery safety, quad bike safety, vehicle crush zones, safe tractor use and PTO management.  There will also be a major focus on safe working at height and the Order of Malta will enact an emergency services incident response each morning for visitors to the stand.

There will be reminders on how to stay safe on the farm with rolling footage of ‘Survivor Stories’, ‘Livestock Safety’ and ‘Older, Wiser, Safer’ DVDs on view within the marquee.  Meanwhile, the Irish Heart Foundation will offer blood pressure and health checks to farmers to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Copies of the new ‘Confined Spaces in Agriculture’ publication will be freely available at the HSA exhibit at (Block 2, Row 21, Stand 462), or can be downloaded from the HSA website here.

Other important publications such as the updated guidance on the ‘Safe Handling of Livestock at Marts and Lairages’ and copies of the revised ‘Farm Safety Code of Practice- Risk Assessment’ will also be available on the stand or available to download.