Alarm at farm deaths, which this year are highest since 2012

The Health and Safety Executive for NI says 2018 has been the worst year since 2012 for farm deaths
The Health and Safety Executive for NI says 2018 has been the worst year since 2012 for farm deaths

This year has seen the highest rate of farm deaths in Northern Ireland in six years, new figures show.

The Health and Safety Executive NI (HSENI) has said its records show that, with a fortnight still to go before the end of the year, there have been eight farming deaths in 2018.

UFU beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney

UFU beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney

This is the greatest number since 2012, when the HSENI recorded 12 such deaths.

However, that year’s figures would have been particularly high given the triple tragedy which befell the Spence family in Hillsborough on September 15 that year, when Ulster rugby star Nevin, brother Graham, and father Noel, all died in the same slurry accident.

The News Letter obtained the figures after the death this week of James Gibson, 71.

The fatal incident to the north of Slemish, Co Antrim, is believed to have involved a bull. It remains unclear exactly what happened. His funeral is today.

Former UFU beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney, pictured beside his tractor on his farm outside Saintfield

Former UFU beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney, pictured beside his tractor on his farm outside Saintfield

Sam Chesney, UFU beef and lamb chairman, voiced “surprise” at the figures “creeping up again”.

“The average age of farmers is creeping up too,” the 55-year-old from Kircubbin, said. “Of course there’s the pressure of time, the pressure of work. We are expected to do more in shorter times, like every business.”

His message to take away from the numbers was this: “Chill out, be careful.”

Predecessor in the role Crosby Cleland, 67, from Saintfield, likewise said the fatality level is a surprise.

“It’s like joining the Army – we know it can be a dangerous place, so let’s look after ourselves,” he said. “The main thing is to stop and think – not to rush into things.”

And DUP MLA William Irwin, who had what he calls a “miraculous escape” from a bull attack in 1996, said: “It’s shocking to realise while we thought for a number of years fatalities were on their way down, this year we’re seeing there’s a rise. Each one of those fatalities is a human tragedy for a family. It behoves everyone in farming circles to be cautious and realise it can happen to anyone.”

HSENI told the News Letter that there have been eight fatal accidents across NI farms this year, but that the only common factor was that older farmers appear to be more vulnerable.

The highest number on the Province’s farms in eight years. The figures are;-

• 2012 - 12

• 2013 - 4

• 2014 - 7

• 2015 - 6

• 2016 - 7

• 2017 - 6

• 2018 - 8 (to 14 Dec)

A HSENI spokesman said it was not clear why there was a spike in deaths this year.

“The last year where there were eight or more work related deaths on farms was 2012 – when there were 12 work related fatalities,” he said.

“Sadly, there are no clear reasons for the increase in the number of deaths during 2018. The only common factor was that the majority of those who have died have been older farmers and may be more vulnerable as their reactions tend to be slower and their ability to survive and recover from a serious incident may also tend to be lower.”

He said the HSENI is not able to say what the trend was with regards non-fatal farm accidents in the past eight years as these are rarely reported to it.

A spokesman said that farmers could update themselves with the latest farm safety advice on www.hseni.gov.uk/topics/agriculture

The HSENI was speaking after elected representatives paid tribute to respected farmer Jim Gibson, who died after an incident involving a bull near Broughshane, Co Antrim on Thursday.

His funeral will be at noon today at Buckna Gospel Hall on Aghanure Road, BT42 4LS.