National Conference Hears how to Implement Safety Behaviour Change in Agriculture

Key note speaker from NUI Galway tells delegates how to design more effective farm safety programmes

21st August 2014

‘Understanding what drives self-employed farmers is key to designing more effective farm safety programmes,’ that was the message from the key-note speaker Dr. Denis O’Hora, from NUI Galway school of Psychology at the national conference on farm safety and health in Kilkenny today (Thursday 21st August).

At the conference, organised by the Health and Safety Authority, Teagasc, the Farm Safety Partnership and sponsored by FBD Trust, Dr. O’Hora addressed the issue of what causes self-employed persons, such as farmers, to take safety risks.

He also noted that recent studies in Ireland by the Health and Safety Authority and Teagasc had shown high awareness of safety among farmers, but a disconnect when it comes to taking action.

“Sources of pressure for farmers include time pressure and financial pressure.  In bigger organisations, there are identified safety personnel whose job is to develop and maintain safe practices.  In a self-employed context, the conflict between productivity and safety often arises for the individual and this can make it difficult to choose the safer but sometimes slower practice.

“Awareness does not seem to be the problem.  Farmers realise that their work can be dangerous, but under pressure, they sometimes make decisions that expose themselves and family members to risks. Understanding farm safety issues means taking seriously the complex job that farmers do, and the complex environment in which they work, instead of just focusing on the immediate causes of accidents”.

There have been nineteen people killed in farm accidents so far this year, three more than all of last year.  With such a high death toll ‘finding the key to sustained behaviour change’ is an important step.

In light of the seriousness of the issue farm leaders Eddie Downey, IFA president, John Comer, ICMSA president, and Kieran O’Dowd, president of Macra Na Feirme, were all in attendance and were involved in chairing the conference.

Martin O’Halloran, CEO of the Health and Safety Authority said that he wants to see safety becoming an integral part of farm management. “We know that awareness levels are high and farmers are positively disposed to farm safety, but we need to translate that awareness into daily behaviour. This means that safety must not be just an added extra or something that can be done eventually when a farmer can find the time. It should really mean putting planning into working safely every minute of every day. The HSA, along with members of the Farm Safety Partnership, have put the tools in place through guidance, advice, training, on-line risk assessments and helpful inspections to assist farmers to take the necessary action”.

Director of Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle, stated that he particularly welcomed the input from the discipline of behavioural psychology into farm health and safety programmes.  “This will greatly assist in identifying the root causes of risk taking behaviour and support new approaches to facilitate behaviour change related to farm health and safety”.

Dr. Jim Phelan, Chairman of the Farm Safety Partnership and HSA Board member, said, “Simple actions can save lives. I urgently ask farmers to take a few seconds before doing a job to ask am I doing this safely, what are the risks? Reducing accidents must be an integral part of farm work”.

Delegates also heard from Brian Rohan, founder of EMBRACE Farm, an organisation he established to support families after the loss of a loved one from a farming accident.  Brian set up EMBRACE Farm along with his wife Norma, after his father was killed in a farming accident. He spoke about his father Liam and the effects the accident had on the family.

Ben Ellis from the National Farmers Union in the UK and Professor Alan Plom of IOSH Rural Industries Group UK gave a joint presentation on the approach taken to farm safety in the UK where they have been successful in reducing accidents in agriculture. They emphasised the importance of the partnership approach where stakeholders work together on key themes and topics.

Catherina Glancy, HSA, John McNamara, Teagasc, and Ciaran Roche, FBD, also spoke to delegates about accident investigations, research into safety extension and promoting safety in agriculture.