Since 2010, 11 deaths have occurred on Irish farms as a result of falling from height.

Safety blitz to tackle deaths from falls

There have been 11 deaths because of falling from a height on Irish farms in the past ten years prompting a safety inspection blitz to be carried out this month.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) agriculture inspection campaign will run until 26 November, targeting both small and large farms nationwide.

During their visits to the farms, HSA inspectors will be reminding farmers of the serious risks involved in any work at height, even short duration jobs.

Inspectors will advise farmers to use the safest possible means of doing this work such as the use of appropriate machinery such as an MEWP (mobile elevated work platform) or putting in place adequate working platforms, adequate edge protection and other measures to prevent falls from height.

According to the HSA, the main risk when working at height is falls, either from ladders, through fragile roofs or from unprotected edges of roofs or other structures.

Simple edge protection can prevent falls, however, a lack of proper planning and preparation has led to very serious consequences over the last decade.

Pat Griffin, Senior Inspector with the HSA said: “A lot of work at height on farms takes place on shed roofs, many of which are either entirely or partially made from fragile materials. Ideally, farmers should avoid carrying out work at height at all and use a competent contractor who will have the equipment and expertise to do the work safely.”

He continued: “Where farmers have no option but to carry out the work themselves, there are basic precautions that must be taken. A fall from a height can lead to a very serious life changing injury or even death.”

The HSA stated a roof is considered fragile if it cannot support the weight of a person or where part or all of the roof can easily be broken or shattered. Fragile roofing materials include galvanised sheeting, Perspex sheeting, and other materials such as glass and wood wool slabs.

Factors to consider when assessing the risk of roof work include things like roof lights which may have been obscured by paint, and metal roof sheets which may have deteriorated with age.

Very serious injuries can also be caused from unsecured ladders slipping sideways or kicking out at the base.

In terms of the law, maintenance of a structure is considered ‘construction work’ and the extensive legal requirements for construction work must be complied with. Where farmers are undertaking the work themselves, they must carry out a risk assessment.