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Safety conference hears call for HSA to audit farmers

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Farmers and key decision-makers in the agriculture industry were in attendance at the inaugural ‘Safeguarding the Future of Farming’ conference and farm safety demonstration today (Friday, April 20).

During a lively panel discussion, Macra na Feirme/FBD 2017 Young Farmer of the Year, PJ O’Keeffe, said farm safety is not high enough on farmers’ agendas.

“We need the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to come down on us, we (farmers) have had enough time," Mr O'Keeffe said. “We need the HSA to design a scheme which includes coming to the farm and auditing us.”

Mr O'Keeffe spoke of the farm safety challenges posed by farm expansion, as well as the need for farming contractors to receive greater financial support from Government to ensure that they can upgrade machinery. He said farmers were experts in all other aspects of farming and farm safety should be treated similarly.

There was also a call for safety improvements for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)/quads. Safety and risk management surveyor, FBD Insurance, Ciaran Roche, said that only CE-approved roll bars should be used on quad bikes and that ATV-specific helmets should be worn at all times.

The panel discussion also featured contributions from Brian Rohan, Embrace FARM; John McNamara, health and safety specialist, Teagasc; and was chaired by Matt O’Keeffe, dairy farmer and editor, Irish Farmers’ Monthly.

The event was officially opened by Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, Andrew Doyle, and featured keynote speeches from MEP and vice-president of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness; chairman of FBD Insurance, Liam Herlihy; and senior inspector with the HSA, Pat Griffin. 

The future of farm safety was represented by award-winning innovators Alexander Brady and Jack Brady, from Colaiste Chraobh Abhann in Wicklow, winners of the ABP Farm Safety Award at the 2018 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition; and Jack Nagle, from Killorglin Community College in Kerry, winner of the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena People’s Choice Awards at the 2017 National Ploughing Championships.

Most dangerous profession

The agriculture sector continues to record the highest number of work-related fatalities in the country. In 2017, 47 people died in workplace accidents. Agriculture accounted for 24 of those deaths, marking the eighth consecutive year that this sector recorded the highest number of fatalities, according to the HSA.

HSA statistics from 2008-2017 confirm that 210 people were killed in the agriculture sector. In that 10-year period, tractors and other farm vehicles were responsible for 64 deaths; machinery caused the deaths of 42 people; livestock was responsible for 28 deaths; and 22 people died as a result of falls from heights.

A unique aspect of ‘Safeguarding the Future of Farming’ was the farm safety demonstration that took place on the UCD Lyons Research farm, coordinated by Dr Aoife Osborne, FBD lecturer in Farm Health and Safety at UCD. These educational and practical sessions reflected the HSA’s findings on the main causes of farm deaths in Ireland.

Speaking at the event, Minister Doyle said: “To have a productive and efficient agricultural sector it is important that those working on farms work in a safe manner without suffering injury or harm”.

Chairman of FBD Insurance, Mr Herlihy, said: “FBD Insurance, through initiatives such as Farm Protect, is dedicated to reducing accidents and fatalities but we must all work together to make a difference.

“In the past 10 years, tractors and other farm vehicles were responsible for 54 deaths; livestock was responsible for 26 deaths; and 19 people died as a result of falls from heights. The agriculture sector, which represents 5-6 per cent of the workforce, often accounts for up to 50 per cent of work related deaths.

“In 2017, there were 47 workplace fatalities, including 24 farming-related deaths, with 14 aged 65 or older. There are real people behind these statistics and we must do all that we can to prevent this trend continuing.”

Hidden problem

Ms McGuinness said that farm safety is a hidden European problem and that the perception of farming, our support for the family-farm model as an ideal needs to be moderated by the reality that ‘family farms’ are not the safe and secure places they should be.

“It’s time to acknowledge that the family farm model which mixes family and the workplace is adding to the unacceptably high level of farm accidents and fatalities. A less rigid and formal structure of work applies there than on other regulated businesses and workplaces.

“This is not to suggest that the family farm model has to be rethought but to realize that the family and farm, if they are continue to mix, needs to see a change in behaviour, attitudes and work practices. Otherwise the horror of farm fatalities and accidents will continue to plague our countryside.

“Pictures of family farms, especially at this spring time of year mask the realities of the harsh side of farming - in all weathers and under time and income pressures.

Tags: Farm Safety