It has been a difficult time for those operating in agriculture with tragic reports coming as recently as last week of yet another death in the agricultural sector in Northern Ireland.

This brings the number of farm deaths in Northern Ireland to twenty four over the last twenty months. This is not a problem specific to one area but affects the United Kingdom as a whole with the number of deaths in the sector averaging close to one person per week.

The industry remains under close scrutiny from the regulators with the highest fine for the offence of Corporate Manslaughter being imposed upon a farming business this year.

There is a great deal of advice available to farmers on the HSE website and free guidance to get you started can be downloaded here.

As with the construction sector those in agriculture face challenging times and meeting health and safety obligations can be made more difficult where farmers may face the additional complication of diversifying their business and dealing with unfamiliar tasks or where the operation is on a small scale and individuals often undertake potentially dangerous tasks alone.

The determination of a Fatal Accident Inquiry published this week that involved the sad loss of an experienced farmer working alone with his cattle is another example of the unpredictable work environments that can be found on farms. It seems that the farmer had attached himself to a cow to assist a new born calf in suckling. The evidence at the inquiry indicated that the deceased was a responsible individual, with cattle that had evidently been well handled and working on a farm where there were signs of good work practices such as use of a quick release knot on the tether.

The HSE inspector who gave evidence to the inquiry confirmed that it would have been best practice to have two people present for this type of task or to use a pen but acknowledged that in the real world this would not always happen and indeed there is no legal requirement for the work to be undertaken in either way. The deceased would have known his herd and been able to assess whether or not the approach taken was suitable to the particular animal. There were no eye witnesses to the accident so no conclusion could be reached about what went wrong but it is assumed that the farmer was dragged and trampled by the cow. The Sheriff who heard the evidence at the Inquiry concluded that there were no grounds to criticise the deceased and he found no grounds for concern about his working practices.

The inquiry highlights the very real dangers faced by this sector and whilst there was no criticism of the work method in this case the importance of farmers putting in place adequate health and safety measures cannot be emphasised highly enough.