Farm Safety Week 2020: Ministers urge farming community to ‘stay safe to stay alive’

Date published: 23 July 2020

During the 8th annual Farm Safety Week, the Ministers met with Co Tyrone man William Sayers who came close to losing his life as a 12-year-old boy when he lost his arm after his coat became entangled in a tractor shaft as he helped to spread slurry on family land.

Urging farmers and their families to be safe, Minister Poots said: “This year’s campaign focussed heavily on the impact of Covid-19 on the farming industry and the support that is available. It also highlighted the positive moves to improving the health and safety record and looked at the technological innovations out there to help everyone farm more safely.

“As someone who has spent a lifetime working in the farming industry, I am well aware of the satisfaction and joy working on the farm can bring, but I also know that all too quickly, it can turn into a nightmare if you aren’t careful with your equipment and your surroundings.

“Throughout Covid-19, many in the farming community were shielding or not getting out and about as much, and it’s possible that the same level of checks haven’t been carried out – I would ask everyone to take the time now, to be extra careful and vigilant. It is vital that farmers pause and think about what they are doing before beginning work with temperamental livestock, high-powered machinery or slurry.”

Farm Safety Week is an awareness raising event that sees the Farm Safety Partnerships, Farm Safety Foundation, Health and Safety Executive, Health and Safety Northern Ireland and the Health and Safety Authority Ireland join forces to drive the fundamental message of safety within the agricultural community home.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds, whose Department is responsible for the Health and Safety Executive, said: “William Sayers’ story is just one example among many dreadful incidents on our farms in Northern Ireland. Farm Safety Week is supported by the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and this week of events reminds all of us that safety must remain a key priority on all farms.

“Farming plays a vital role in Northern Ireland’s economy and I know that our farmers work extremely hard.

“HSENI are also using Farm Safety Week to reinforce their key safety messages and to offer advice to the industry. They have launched their new ‘Farm Safe Essentials’ message which aims to drill down into the key elements and key issues which are the main causes of major incidents and death on our farms. The first is entitled ‘No Brakes, No Chance’.

“I would like to take this opportunity to encourage farm workers to always give time and consideration to the four key dangers on farms – slurry, animals, falls and equipment. It is essential to work safely to prevent accidents which can kill or lead to serious injuries.”

Speaking about his life-changing accident, William Sayers said: “I think the accident was caused by my coat not being zipped up that night because it would have been closer to my body and there would have been less loose clothing flapping about.

“If there had been a guard on that shaft that night, no matter what the weather was like, whether my coat was zipped up or not there was absolutely no chance of my coat getting caught in it.

“Looking back to the mistakes I made, I would emphasise that if you take a bit more time to think about what you’re about to do so the same thing doesn’t happen to you that happened to me. You sometimes think why me, or it’ll never happen to me, but the other side of the coin is that it could happen to you. I’m just thankful I’m alive and here to tell this story.”

Notes to editors: 

1. Photo caption - Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots MLA (left) and Economy Minister Diane Dodds MLA (right) have urged the farming community to be hyper-vigilant about the very real dangers of working on the farm. During the 8th annual Farm Safety Week, the Ministers met with Co Tyrone man William Sayers (centre) who came close to losing his life as a 12-year-old boy when he lost his arm after his coat became entangled in a tractor shaft as he helped to spread slurry on family land.

2. HSENI statistics on farm safety can be located at In 2018, there were eight farm fatalities in Northern Ireland, an increase of one from 2017. Four of the deaths in 2018 related to incidents involving livestock, two involved farm machinery, another came as the result of a fall and another from an unspecified cause.

3. A 2015 Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) survey of farmers suggested that as many as 100 incidents per month resulted in hospital treatment. It is also generally recognised by HSENI that there is a strong degree of under reporting of farm accidents on Northern Ireland’s farms where the majority of workers are self-employed. The Farm Safety Partnership comprises the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), NFU Mutual (NFUM), the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) and the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA). It is tasked with assisting Northern Ireland’s farming community to work safely and tackle the problem of work-related fatalities and injuries on farms.

4. All DAERA press queries should be directed to

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6. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

7. Information on the Farm Safe Essentials can be found on the HSENI website.

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