Occupational health risks


Accidents are a major cause of injury and death on the farm and involve children and adults of all ages. Farming is a hazardous industry. Farmers and farm workers work with potentially dangerous machinery, vehicles, chemicals, livestock, at heights or near pits and silos. They are exposed to the effects of bad weather, noise and dust.

The main causes of fatal accidents on Northern Irish farms are Falls, Animals, Equipment and Slurry. Solutions are often simple and cheap and the people best placed to make farms safer are farmers and their employees.

Most importantly take a moment before starting any job and think what could go wrong and how to prevent it, remember always –

STOP and think SAFE

SLURRY - The lethal gases can cause instant death.
Are all children and all animals kept out of the area? 
Are all doors and windows open? 
Are tank openings properly covered?

Remember! Start the mixer and stay out of the building for as long as possible, at least 30 minutes.

ANIMALS - Know the hazards of working with animals.
Are there proper cattle handling facilities which are regularly maintained? 
Is there a properly designed bull pen (for dairy breed bulls)? 
Are gates and fences regularly checked and maintained? 
Can I use a vehicle (to act as a refuge) when checking grazing livestock?

Remember! All bulls and any female animal with young are potentially dangerous.

FALLS - Check before you climb.
Have I got the right equipment for the job?
Can I access the area safely? 
Are ladders securely footed and tied?

Remember! Don’t go onto a fragile or corroded roof; you can fall through as well as off the roof.

EQUIPMENT - Is it safe and ready for use?
Are all guards in place, in good condition and regularly maintained? 
Do the PTO shaft guards cover the whole shaft? 
Are brakes and steering in good repair? 
Are mirrors clean and in place to ensure all round visibility?

Remember! Some machines have more than one source of power – isolate any electrical, hydraulic or pneumatic systems before working on the machine.

For more information see: http://farmsafe.hseni.gov.uk/index.htm


Lung Disease

Farmer’s lung although more prevalent when winter fodder was almost exclusively hay can still occur. Fungal spores are released into the air when mouldy hay is given to cattle and the farmer is exposed to the dust. The fungal spores produce a damaging response in the lungs when inhaled. If not detected and treated early this can lead to permanent lung damage and shortness of breath. Flu like symptoms with shortness of breath and a recent history of working with hay or straw should raise the suspicion of Farmer’s Lung. Diesel engine exhaust contains particulates, the inhalation of which may lead to asthma. Running tractor engines in confined spaces exposes the operator to levels of pollutants which can do long-term lung damage. All dusts, solvent fumes and spray mists have the potential to enter the lungs and cause damage. Birdhouses can be a dusty environment in which Psittacosis in the air can cause similar changes in the lung if inhaled.

Appropriate masks or extractor fans and ventilation can reduce this and protect lung health.


Cancer studies often show clusters of disease in certain groups. Farmers are one such group. There appears to be an association between exposure to pesticides and cancers of the blood and lymphatic system. Previous generations were unaware of these risks and often took chances and were exposed as no protection was worn. Sun exposure particularly in those naturally fair skinned, has long been known to cause skin cancers and is more common in all outdoor workers. Frequent sites are face, ears and backs of hands. Areas of change, roughness, bleeding or change in surface contour of the skin should be considered significant and checked out.


Hearing loss is common in many industries as noise awareness and protection were not always a priority. Early tractor cabs had poor sound insulation and contributed to ear damage. Shotgun and chain saw use also with regular exposure will reduce hearing over time. Earplugs or headsets used appropriately can help reduce this.

Back and Joint Pain

Back and joint pain is more common in manual workers and as farmers are often working alone they are compelled to do things, which would be outside manual handling guidelines. Although bag sizes have reduced in cement and other products, tractor and machinery wheels certainly have not. Lift with a straight back when your muscles are warmed up. Avoid sudden jolts or carrying weights, as muscle injury is more likely in these circumstances.

Page last updated:07 November 2014