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How to stay safe around machinery this summer

Provisional H.S.A. figures up to April 23rd 2020 show that 7 persons have lost their lives in farm workplace-related accidents. Tractors and machinery are key areas needing attention, writes Francis Bligh and John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Specialists.

As the days get longer, farmers and contractors will be experiencing the added pressure of working longer hours to try to get work done. It is important that safety is foremost in everyone’s mind and that we take steps to avoid farm accidents during this time.

Health and Safety Authority figures show that sadly 18 people lost their lives due to farm accidents in 2019. Over the last 10 years, accidents related to tractors, vehicles and machinery accounted for almost 50% of fatalities. 

Machinery risks

The people at risk include the machine operators and people in the vicinity. The main causes of accidents involving tractors/vehicles and machinery are:

  • Being crushed;
  • Being stuck;
  • Being pinned under;
  • Falling from the vehicle.

Before starting jobs involving machinery, it is very important to take the time to properly plan. An ESRI study has shown that farmers who do not check their agricultural machinery before use have a 59% increased risk of injury.

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Machine maintenance

When carrying out work directly it is important not to use machinery where U-Guards or O- Guards are missing and/or drive shafts are unguarded. Remember to stay well away from rotating machine parts, if a person gets entangled the consequences are likely to be horrific.

So before starting jobs like silage, slurry, fertilizer or topping these machines need to be checked to ensure guards are in place and that they are maintained and functioning properly.

Always ensure that the vehicle/machines are in a safe working condition before use. If a tractor or a machine breaks down, have it fixed before it is next used. Tractor and machinery dealers have been deemed an essential service provider by the Irish Government so, during COVID-19 restrictions, parts are available.

Avoid crush injuries

When mounting machinery to a tractor 3-point linkage, it is very important to be aware of the many places where body parts may get crushed. Over 50% of fatalities with tractors and vehicles are due to crush injuries.

Areas such as between the tractor and the machine, a wall, another implement or under the implement itself are all potential crush zones.

It is very important that the machine is positioned on a stable base, quick attach mechanisms are used where present, the tractor handbrake is engaged and that tractor controls are only used when people are known to be safely outside potential crush zones.

Parking safely

When parking; avoid parking on slopes, apply the handbrake, stop the engine and leave the fuel-control stop in the shut-off position, lower hydraulic equipment to the ground and remove the key.

Non-existent or poorly functioning handbrakes have been a major contributing factor in many farm injuries and fatalities. Simple tasks like getting down from a tractor to open a gate, attach an implement, loading animals or goods into a trailer are all potentially lethal when a handbrake is not in place or not working properly.

When using vehicles and machinery on public roads, ensure that all mirrors, indicators, lights and wipers are in working order. The vehicle should also have a functioning flashing beacon. Check access points to public roadways for visibility.

Child safety

Do not carry a passenger unless there is an authorized passenger seat and the passenger is more than 7 years old. Where fitted, a seatbelt must be worn. Over 80% of child fatalities on farms are associated with tractors vehicles and machinery.

Safe secure play areas away from the farm are a must and if children are on the farm they must be properly supervised.

Workload and tiredness

If the workload is heavy and you feel there are not enough hours in the day, take time out to consider if you are going to carry out all the jobs yourself or if other individuals or contractors could help. 

Tiredness is a contributing factor in many farm accidents so you must take control and manage your farm in a way that’s sustainable for you in the long term.

Good communication and management skills are essential if individuals and/or contractors are involved to ensure they are aware of hazards around the farm.

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