Comment: It’s time farmers were saved from themselves

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Young man (26) dies in quad bike accident while helping his father on family farm. Married father of two dies from serious head injuries while working with cattle on his farm. 70-year-old farther of five killed in accident involving a tractor.

Over the course of just three days recently, these three farm deaths happened. If this was in any other sector there would be uproar over the level of fatalities and an action plan would be commissioned.

Unfortunately, in farming, it's just another few days on the farm.

Worse still, across the country countless more non fatal farm accidents and near misses are likely to have gone unreported.

After the recent deaths, the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed made a remarkable comment on farm safety in Ireland, that went under the radar.

Talking about farm safety and in particular the number of farm deaths, he said: “In truth we’re losing the battle.”

An extraordinary admission from the man in charge of a sector which has spent decades attempting to reduce the number of fatalities.

Tragedy has been too common in the news recently and the tragic loss of the crew of rescue 116 to the horrific attacks this week in London meant that the deaths on Irish farms were pushed off the front pages indeed hardly make any pages at all.

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It’s almost as if reports of farm accidents have become so common now the general populous has become desensitised to them.

However, for the families involved they are all too real and heart breaking.

The statistics on farm accidents have been rolled out that often they have almost become boring. When, in fact, they are absolutely harrowing.

Farmers are eight times more likely to die in a workplace accident than other workers. The level of farm accidents is not decreasing and it's the same accidents occurring each year.

Research indicates that, in general, farmers’ attitudes to safety only change after serious injury occurs.

The age profile of those killed is of serious concern. The old and the young are exceptionally vulnerable to death and injury on Irish farms.

So what’s going on here? First off, there’s the often used excuses - farmers are too busy, not paid enough, too old, haven’t enough help and don't have enough training.

Then, there's the bizarre and morbid reasoning - that death is basically the cost of doing business in the farming sector.

And there’s also the farmers are unsafe workers argument – they take things for granted, take chances, don’t invest in safe equipment and don't see safety as a priority.

Just last week when proposals for roadworthiness tests for tractors were mooted, farm organisations lined up to dismiss them as unnecessary.

Meanwhile, 21pc of farm accidents involve tractors or farm vehicles. Why would you want safe machinery?

However, change may be on the way. Minister Creed also said last week that at this point we have to take the approach that nothing can be ruled out.

“We may need to contemplate issues that will be unpopular,” he said.

This could be an important and courageous change of direction by the Minister and one that won't make him popular among farmers.

For too long Ministers have shirked away from taking definite action around farm safety and that radical action boils down to stricter farm safety laws and tough financial penalties to enforce them.

Farmers have been treated to the carrot approach for to long when it comes to farm safety and their behaviour and attitude has not changed.

Now it's time to save farmers from themselves.

Online Editors

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