Analysis: Carrot and stick approach required to ensure that farmers fully engage on safety
Farming is the most dangerous profession in Ireland. 197 people have lost their lives in farm accidents between 2007-2016.
In 2016, the overall trend in workplace deaths decreased by 21pc from 56 to 44 deaths, however farming deaths actually increased by 17pc from 18 to 21 deaths. At the time of writing, 20 people have already lost their lives in farming accidents so far this year.
Studies have shown that farmers attitudes to safety only change after serious injury occurs. It is clear we have a problem in our industry.
Farm safety legislation is covered under The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and it requires all farmers to prepare and implement a Safety Statement. The act requires:
- a safe place of work which includes the farmyard and buildings
- safe working practices and procedures
- safe equipment and machinery
- a safe way in and out of the farmyard and other places of work, including farm buildings
- information and training for workers
- personal protective equipment where necessary
- a safe system for the storage, handling and use of articles and substances
- adequate toilet and washing facilities
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) have a specialist group of inspectors who visit approximately 3,000 farms throughout the country per annum. Inspection campaigns over recent years have found that levels of compliance in the sector are slowly increasing, however, the sector continues to experience a disproportionately high level of fatal accidents.
The inspectors can serve two types of notification:
(1) An Improvement Notice: a legal directive from an inspector requiring that certain improvements be carried out in a specified time-frame, or
(2) A Prohibition Notice: a legal instruction directing that a specified work activity be stopped due to the level of danger.
The legislation includes prohibitive fines and even the threat of imprisonment, yet the number of farm deaths is not reducing. How do we solve it?
Farmers in Ireland clearly respond well to schemes, grants and subsidies, the success of agri-environmental schemes and capital investment programmes such as TAMS under the Rural Development programme are proof of this fact.
The speedy uptake of the €12.2m Farm Safety Scheme by 6,299 applicants is further evidence of Irish farmers affinity with schemes and grants.
It never ceases to amaze me the desire and panic amongst farmers to make a valid application for a scheme or grant before the inevitable deadline date, often farmers will apply just for fear of missing out.
In equal measure farmers despise penalties on their payments, surely herein lies an opportunity to increase the awareness of farm safety and hopefully reduce fatal and non-fatal farm accidents.
The inclusion of mandatory farm safety courses in TAMS grant qualification is a step in the right direction but we have to actively engage farmers to build the knowledge and awareness levels, sitting through a course does not have the desired effect. Actively engaging farmers to do a test following a course would be once such approach.
Farmers could be paid to do a multiple-choice question (MCQ) type test online on farm safety. This test could be in a similar format to getting a provisional drivers licence.
Our 16-year-old children devour the book on the rules of the road and routinely practice online in preparation for the theory test, it certainly ingrains the rules of the road into their psyche.
In fact, the HSA have an excellent online Farm Risk Assessment Tool which could form the basis of such a test.
The carrot approach would be to pay farmers for successfully passing the test, the stick approach would be to withhold or even penalise Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) entitlement payments or grants for non-compliance.
A smaller number of farmers could be selected for a practical or more detailed test on an annual basis to ensure continued awareness.
Initially this approach would certainly not go down well with farmers and the farm organisations, but surely we have an obligation to do all we can to improve the present situation.
If you were working on a building site in this country in the 1970s and you were told that all builders would have to do a safety course, wear a hard hat, steel toecap boots and a high-visibility vest before they would be allowed to work on a building site you not have been believed.
The construction industry has embraced the importance of safety and safety legislation through a combination of a carrot and stick approach and it has significantly improved its safety record, perhaps our industry must do likewise.
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