Thursday 29 September 2016

Cork students flag up need for farm safety awareness among children

Published 06/04/2016 | 02:30

Robynne Shorten, Emma Stokes and Chiara Rijks-Weidner are the trio behind the Ag Flag idea, which scooped an award at the 2016 BT Young Scientist Exhibition.
Robynne Shorten, Emma Stokes and Chiara Rijks-Weidner are the trio behind the Ag Flag idea, which scooped an award at the 2016 BT Young Scientist Exhibition.

This week we kick off the Farming Independent's Spring Safety Series by looking at an award-winning Transition Year project from Co Cork. Robynne Shorten, Emma Stokes and Chiara Rijks-Weidner are the three young students behind the project, which scooped an award at the 2016 BT Young Scientist Exhibition. All three students are based in Bandon Grammar School, Co Cork.

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Robynne Shorten explained; "Our project was based on improving primary school children's awareness on farm safety, as well as their parent's awareness. Between 2005 and 2014 there was over 193 deaths on farms across Ireland.

"We noticed that some 22 of those deaths were children, so we really wanted to focus on children in this project. We went to 16 primary schools in west Cork and surveyed 590 children to see how much they already knew about farm safety, and if they would like to learn more about it in school, and earn an 'Ag Flag' for their school in doing so.

"We then surveyed 415 of the parents to see how aware the parents thought their children were of farm safety, and whether they would like their children to learn more about farm safety in school."

Robynne and her team got very definite responses, with 91pc of the children surveyed saying they would like to learn more about farm safety in schools.

However, some of the results were shocking, and showed up a clear lack of education around the whole area of farm safety; the most notable example being that 5pc of children surveyed said they "would enter" a slurry pit.

The students were very worried by such responses, and decided to come up with a plan to improve farm safety awareness among school children.

Robynne continued; "Based on the results we came up with 10 modules, each based on a different aspect of farm safety, with the idea being that one module could be taught per school month.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) gave us permission to use their 'Stay Safe on the Farm with Jessy' as well as their online 'Safety for Summertime' module. The modules also get parents involved, and on completion our idea is that the school will be awarded an 'Ag Flag' to show it is keenly aware of farm safety (similar to the water safety and green schools flag for schools)."

Impressively, the entrepreneurial students from Bandon went right to the top of the industry to get endorsement for their campaign.

They met with Simon Coveney who endorsed the idea, while Teagasc are also on board. They also met with Pat Griffin, senior inspector for the HSA, who helped with developing the modules.

However, the students are yet to receive a reply from either the Minister of Education's office or the Minister for Children's Affairs to date. They are hoping the lack of response is down to the Government still being in a state of flux since the election.

"We would like to pilot the idea in the Cork area and then if it is successful bring it nationwide," said Robynne. "If most primary schools take part we really think we could lower the death count of children on farms."

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