In 2012 three members of the Spence family in Co Down Northern Ireland died in an accident in the farm’s slurry tank They died because they had entered the farm’s slurry tank to rescue their dog and were overcome by the noxious fumes.
BBC TV reported on the inquest where the coroner noted that all farmers should take note of the HSE guidance on slurry. The coroner suggested that this farm accident death was unusual and unprecedented.
In fact on the HSE website there were at least two previous stories highlighting dangers of slurry tanks going back as far as 2005 so it was not as unusual as the coroner suggested.
Accidents like this are governed by regulations that actually go back to 1998- these regulations prohibit work in confined spaces which is not necessary and should only be carried out with a proper risk assessment and with emergency provisions in place.
This slurry accident, whilst unusual and tragic, does demonstrate a wider risk to farm workers from lack of enforcement of regulations. Statistics are damning- although only some 1-1.5% of workers are employed on the land they nevertheless account for up to 20% of all fatalities per year.
The reasons why there is poor compliance with regulations on farms are widespread. Farm work is more personal than traditional factory or office work- often farm workers just get on with the job and are not as aware of the risks of farm accidents as they might be with proper training. There is also believed to be a lack of management skills in farming and certainly an ignorance of the details of the regulations. Finally there are also problems with short term contract workers who are often poorly trained and regulated.
Whichever the reason it is vital that to avoid other farm accidents in the future that the regulations are enforced and ignorance of these regulations by employers should not be tolerated. Regulation does not hold back business- poorly enforced regulations are both dangerous and ultimately bad for business too.