A major study has found that just over half agricultural science students think that the level of risk they face whilst doing farm work is low.
The study, part of the BeSafe Project which is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, was conducted among 417 first and second year Agricultural Science students in University College Dublin (UCD). The study sought to understand if experience, awareness, or social influences increase, or decrease risk perception.
Overall, the results found that the level of work experience has little influence on risk perception. Awareness of someone who had a serious injury, or of someone killed on a farm, substantially increased students’ risk perception. The study found that 34% knew someone killed in a farm incident, 14% knew someone who suffered a severe injury, defined as being out of work or study for more than a day, while 25% experienced a near miss.
Social influencers, that is family members and farmers known to the students, were found to have the largest impact on student’s risk perception. However, worryingly, the research found that these social influencers had a negative impact on the students’ risk perception.
The study also found that students’ level of farm injury risk perception was highest where a family member experienced a severe injury, followed by a near miss; followed thereafter by hearing about someone who died and lastly by hearing about someone injured. These findings indicate that direct personal experience has the strongest influence on student risk perception.
Minister of State with special responsibility for Farm Safety at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr Martin Heydon T.D., visited UCD Lyons Farm, County Kildare to launch the research and to discuss the importance of farm health and safety with students.
Speaking to students, Minister Heydon said: “Agricultural science students are the future leaders of our industry. This study, conducted by Teagasc and UCD, found the perception of farm risks is low amongst a significant proportion of agricultural students in Ireland. It is highest among those who have experienced a near miss or know someone who has been involved in a farm safety incident, but we cannot wait until the near miss.
“Farms right now are the most dangerous workplace in Ireland. Our young farmers and graduates have the ability to change the culture around farm safety and it is important we support them to make our farms every better places to work and live.”
Dean of the School of Agriculture and Food Science at UCD, Professor Frank Monahan, in welcoming the Minister to Lyons Farm, stated that provision of health and safety education to students is a central component of the School’s focus on the Total Health Model, with the health of farmers being crucial to the social sustainability of the agricultural sector.
Dr Mohammad Mohammdrezaei, Teagasc, Post Doctoral Scholar and lead author, stated that the student study findings are similar to those of another BeSafe paper, which found that if agricultural advisors perceive that ‘leading farmers’ do not see farm health and safety as important, they are unlikely to raise the issue with farmers. Commenting on the results of recent work published from the BeSafe study, Dr David Meredith, Teagasc Research Officer and project leader, stated that the research demonstrates the important role that farmers and farm families play in shaping attitudes and perceptions towards safety and this issue will be the focus of a major international conference on farm safety that will be held in Ireland in late August this year.
Dr Sinéad Flannery, Assistant Professor in Behavioural Science in Agriculture and Professor Jim Kinsella, Head of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development at the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, stressed that the findings are important in establishing differences in perception of risks between groups of students and highlights that student experiences of injuries, or near misses may be an important source of knowledge that other students can identify with, and learn from.
Dr John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Specialist advisor stated that the study findings tally with recent research in Canada, which indicates the strong influence of farm parents on safety behaviours of their family members.
The student farm safety behavioural paper along with two other Irish farm childhood and youth safety are part of an Open Access Journal Frontiers in Public Health special issue entitled: Safeguarding Youth from Agricultural Injury and Illness; International Experiences. The series of 25 papers from around the world can be viewed here: