Today I will be presented with my FETAC Health and Safety Certificate by Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Shane McEntee. I did a Teagasc Health and Safety Course last year, along with many other farmers, given by Lily Nolan.
The course is very good and thorough, involving theory and practical work. We filled out a safety statement for our farm and did a safe system of work plan (SSWP). These are compulsory in every work place including farms.
The safety statement is a document that identifies the key hazards on the farm known to cause serious injury and death. It basically lists everything on the farm -- machinery, sheds, tools, water, electricity and animals -- and you have to tick a box to show that these things are safe. For example, is the PTO shaft on your tractor protected by a U guard? Is your cattle crush suitable for handling big animals?
The SSWP is a list of most jobs on your farm and you have to tick boxes beside pictures to show you understand the dangers of that job. For example, if you are spreading slurry, what are the dangers attached to that job? If you are dosing cattle what are the dangers attached to that? I do have to say that I did find this booklet very hard to understand with all the pictures. I know it is done like that to help everyone no matter what language you speak but I think it could be a lot more straightforward.
However, behind all this theory are the statistics and they are shocking for farm deaths and serious injuries. In 2010, 22 people were killed and hundreds injured and even so far this year there are already three deaths on farms. But figures are easily dished out; however, behind each of these statistics is a family tragedy.
And the sad reality is that the vast majority of these accidents could be prevented. Bad habits and complacency are to blame for most of the incidents. It only takes a minute to cover the slurry tank but we say "sure I'll be back in a minute". We lean over the PTO shaft rather than walk around the tractor. Nobody wants to get that phone call to say someone they know has been in a serious accident or worse died. And yet it happens every day and we all know someone who has had a bad accident. But we also have this mentality that it won't happen to us.
After doing the course I came home and bought a new first aid kit, more dust masks, better gloves, disposable overalls, and lots more. I was very keen to get it all right; the old expression 'your health is your wealth' comes to mind. But the equipment is only as good as the people using it. As a tillage farmer, our busy times are during harvest and sowing, and it gets frantic at that time of year.
For other farmers the busy periods are at different times of the year but we all have our pressure times when we have to get work done and it just seems that there are not enough hours in the day. There is more stress, more worry and more work. This is the time when we start to take short cuts. We tell ourselves we don't have time, but we should just take a second to think about the consequences of risking our health. We could end up with all the time in the world with very little to do -- or worse. Think about it -- health and safety saves lives.
Helen and Phil Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org