Costs cannot be allowed to compromise farm safety as the price may be just too high
Tight profit margins in farming are a major contributor to the dreadful litany of farm accidents and deaths, according to former IFA president John Dillon. He was speaking on a recent RTE Radio 1 Countrywide programme to presenter Damian O'Reilly.
The IFA man is right. Farming on a routine daily basis exposes you to hazards and risks. The cow in the milking parlour can break your arm. Forking silage, dung or hay can do in your back. Long term, the physical work and activity on a farm will wear out a body in a way that will never be experienced by those sitting comfortably in front of a computer.
But farmers, in order to get the job done quickly and at least cost, will also take risks and short cuts.
I'm not talking about the unguarded tractor PTO shaft or the sub-standard wiring or the badly stored spray chemical. Hopefully these issues have been addressed on the vast majority of premises.
Rather I refer to farmers continuing to dose cattle for worms rather than using the more expensive but safer pour-on products. Farmers continue to use stock bulls when the safer but more laborious option would be to use AI. Young bulls are being fed to get a higher margin, even though steers are a safer bet for handling.
Farmers will hang onto a defective old tractor or machine because they cannot afford to trade it in. Farmers will climb and use ladders where it may not be safe to do so but the job has to be done cheaply and at least cost. Sheep will be dipped without the operator donning a special suit, in order to get through the job faster and at lower cost, etc.
Last week I met a small restaurant owner who had received a visit from a Health and Safety Authority (HSA) inspector. The inspector objected to the fact that the restaurant owner had a man up a ladder painting first-floor windows. "How I am going to get my windows painted without climbing a ladder?" asked the restaurant owner. "You either erect scaffolding or hire a cherry picker," he was told.
I came across another incident where a kerbside hedge outside a small business premises was being trimmed. In this case the Health and Safety inspector objected to the fact that there wasn't a second person on hand to warn the pedestrians and other traffic and generally keep look out.