Warning to farmers after rise in ‘narrow escapes’

� Presseye.com'A Health and Safety Executive inspector
� Presseye.com'A Health and Safety Executive inspector

There have been four ‘narrow escapes’ during the mixing of slurry on farms across Northern Ireland over the past few weeks, it has been revealed.

Local politicians have warned farmers to exercise caution as the number of incidents involving slurry fumes appears to be on the rise.

Last week, a farmer from Fermanagh collapsed and lost consciousness. He was saved by another farm worker who saw what happened.

Firefighters have said that the men were “in extreme danger” and had a lucky escape.

“We got the call that a man had collapsed at the scene due to slurry fumes. Immediately we take into consideration the risk to other people and to the firefighters as well,” Fire Service Group commander Fergal Leonard told the BBC.

“Thankfully, the man was rescued by another man working on the farm.

“But both men were in extreme danger because there was agitation of the slurry going on and it gives off very high levels of hydrogen sulphide. And these levels could cause death.”

Two cows died in the latest incident. It has been reported that a number of animals were overcome by slurry fumes and died in the past two weeks.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSENI) has said it is concerned about the spike in the number of recent incidents involving slurry.

Farm safety inspector Malcolm Downey told the BBC: “In all those cases thankfully, there was someone else present outside to raise the alarm and rescue the person and take the appropriate steps and contact the emergency services.

“If it wasn’t for those people, we could have been looking at a number of tragedies.”

SDLP farming spokesperson Patsy McGlone MLA has urged farm workers to be cautious when working with slurry.

He added: “Everyone working on a farm knows how dangerous slurry can be. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by fumes, putting yourself and others in danger.

“Even experienced farm workers need to exercise extra caution. No matter how many years you’ve been mixing, it only takes one incident to become a tragedy.

“In previous years the Health and Safety Executive has run very useful awareness campaigns warning about the dangers associated with farm working. Large machinery, handling animals and mixing slurry all pose significant risks. With farm business margins decreasing and people working harder and later, those risks are amplified.

“We’ve had a number of lucky escapes over the last few weeks thanks to the quick thinking and bravery of farming teams. The last thing we need is another tragedy in our rural communities. I would appeal again to people to exercise caution.”

Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy described farming as ‘one of the most dangerous occupations in the north’ and said unfortunately there have been a number of tragic deaths on farms in recent years.

He added: “In the last two weeks four deaths have been narrowly avoided in incidents involving slurry mixing, prompting the Health and Safety Executive to issue a warning to farmers.

“I would urge all those involved in farming to take heed of this warning and to show extreme care and caution while mixing slurry. We don’t want to see any more death on our farms across the north.”