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Op-ed: Minister Martin Heydon

Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in Ireland, but it is also one of the most dangerous. As a farmer you are seven times more likely to die in a workplace incident than any other of the more than two million workers in Ireland. It is a shocking statistic and one which I have been working to change in my time as Minister with responsibility for farm safety. Farmers must take steps to protect themselves and their families.

Over the last three years, improvements have been made as farmers take steps to protect themselves and their families. But every death is one too many. These incidents not only have a devastating impact on the families involved but also for the wider farming community. We cannot wait for serious incidents to occur to change behaviour and adopt safer working practices.
Since my appointment, I have created a dedicated unit within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) focussed on farm safety, and I have put a ringfenced €2.5m fund in place to support new safety initiatives. I also prioritised incorporating farm safety into the new CAP with safety training now forming part of core schemes such as Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme, Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme, Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme, and the new Knowledge Transfer programme.

Improving safety on farm starts with identifying risk. And there are several high-risk areas that most farmers will be familiar with:

Machinery is one of the biggest causes of fatal incidents on farms, with tractors and other vehicles being involved in many of these. Farmers should ensure that all machinery is well-maintained and that they have received proper training in its use.

Livestock can be unpredictable, and farmers need to take care when handling them. They should ensure that they have proper handling facilities and that they are familiar with the behaviour of the animals they are working with.

Falls are a common but often unidentified cause of incidents on farms, particularly from heights such as roofs or ladders. Farmers should ensure that they have proper safety equipment, such as harnesses and safety rails, and that they use them when working at height.

Each farm is unique but improving safety starts by looking at your farm with a fresh pair of eyes and considering ways in which it could be made safer:

Farmers should ensure that they and any employees or family members have received proper training in all aspects of farm safety, including machinery operation and livestock handling.

Risk assessment
Farmers should conduct a risk assessment of their farm to identify potential hazards and take steps to mitigate them. This could include installing safety rails, improving lighting, or providing proper signage.

Farmers should ensure that all machinery is well-maintained and that they have a regular maintenance schedule in place. They should also ensure that all safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers and or aid kits, are in good working order.

Personal protective equipment
Farmers should ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment, such as helmets, gloves, and safety boots, is used when working on the farm.

Sadly, so far this year 10 people have lost their lives on Irish farms. Each one of these leaves behind a farm, a family, and a community that has suffered an irreversible loss. That is why improving farm safety is such an important issue for the farming community, and why I am such a strong advocate for this cause. By taking steps to identify potential hazards and mitigate them, farmers can reduce the risk of incidents and protect themselves and their families. With proper training, maintenance, and the use of personal protective equipment, farmers can make their farms safer places to work and live.