Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Opinion: The time has come for tougher action on farm safety

You can't put a price on a life, but perhaps farmers should face being fined for not taking safety training

Is it time to penalise farmers over farm safety?
Is it time to penalise farmers over farm safety?
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Farm safety continues to be a huge issue for rural Ireland and it's time something more was done to address the issues.

Last year, 21 people died in accidents on Irish farms and on the second day of 2017 the first farm fatality has occured. The majority of deaths involve machinery or cattle and a large proportion of the people killed are either children or old.

Put simply, farming has more work-related deaths than any other profession in Ireland a statistic that has to change. If the level of farm deaths continue over 200 farmers will have died in this decade.

One of the main issues around farm safety is that quite often farming is a one-man show. Most farmers out herding cattle, bringing them in for dosing or inspections, checking calving cows or going about their normal day-to-day work with machinery are doing so on their own.

And, unfortunately, too often that one person can become complacent about the 'normal' - be it a piece of machinery that needs maintenance; a cross cow; leaving the tractor running when you hop out to do something quickly. And it's those momentary lapses where the danger of the norm is forgotten that can cost lives.

No one goes out to have an accident, but too many farmers think it will never happen to them, or they just don't think. And that attitude has to change. And the message farmers receive around farm safety must, in turn, change their attitude.

The Health and Safety Authority carries out around 2,500-3,000 unannounced farm inspections every year, but clearly the message is not being heard.

And, if the 'carrot' approach does not see a significant dip in the number of farm deaths and serious accidents then it's time to consider the 'stick' approach and make unsafe farms an offence over which farmers can face a financial fine.

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A recent suggestion that farmers should not receive their Basic Payment without doing a farm safety course stands to reason.

A simple half-day course, pointing out the obvious of what might happen if you do that, or don't do this, would go a long way in reminding farmers that they work in a dangerous environment and taking the time or effort to do things safely might be better for everyone in the long run.

No one wants to impose a fine on any grieving family after a fatality, but the message must be drive home to farmers and anyone on a farm that safety must be a priority on farms.

There should be no price on life, but enough has been said about farm safety, the time for action is now.

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