A new booklet entitled ‘Staying Fit for Farming’ promoting farmers health and healthy lifestyles was launched last week at the National Ploughing Championships.

Addressing farmer health and developing an information publication on health was a major goal within the Farm Safety Action Plan (2009 to 2012) of the Farm Safety Partnership. ‘Staying Fit for Farming’ was produced by Dr Noel Richardson, Director of the Centre for Men’s Health at Carlow Institute of Technology, following alarming research by Health Service Executive medical consultant in public health, Dr Breda Smyth.

Her study indicated that farmers have much higher death rates than most other groups in the occupational age range of 15 to 64 years old. The research, based on national mortality data, found that the death rate of farmers was over 5 times higher than salaried employees, who had the lowest death rate.

Farmers have particularly high mortality from circulatory diseases, cancers and injuries and poisonings. The high death rate was particularly associated with small farms with low income.

Speaking about the approach used when producing the booklet, Dr Richardson said, “Holding interviews with farmers and focus groups were useful ways to explore attitudes and behaviours towards health. The case studies included in the booklet show the consequences of ill health and give practical examples of how to maintain or improve health. A number of areas, that are key to well-being, have been highlighted; coping with stress, keeping weight down, good back care, reducing alcohol intake and quitting smoking will all lead to major improvements for farmers.”

According to John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Officer, health is a vital personal attribute for both quality of life and to operate a farm successfully. “Research from the Teagasc National Farm Survey indicates that poor health leads to an average income reduction of 15%, but in individual cases the reduction can be much greater.”

Mr Patrick Griffin, Senior Inspector with the Health and Safety Authority with responsibility for the agriculture sector, stated that international research links poor health with increased accident levels, so improving health could have the added benefit of reducing farm accidents. “We need to consider the whole person when trying to ensure farmers are fit for work, prevention of ill-health is equally as important as the prevention of farm accidents. A healthy farmer is much less likely to suffer a farm accident.”

‘Staying Fit for Farming’ is sponsored by the HSA, Teagasc, FBD Trust and the HSE. It will be circulated nationally through the Irish Farmers Journal in early 2014 and is available to download for free here: