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Cash penalty would ensure safer farms

You have to hand it to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). Its advertising campaign has hit the press and the airwaves and it certainly has the shock value.

The big pictures of the farmer who lost his arm is visually powerful. But it's the radio ad that has really shocked me. The visceral sound of the flesh and bone being ripped apart leaves the listener in no doubt as to what's happening. If shock tactics work, this advert will be a resounding success.

The jury is still out, though, on what it will actually take to create a culture shift on farm safety. I'll be the first to admit that I've taken chances myself around the farm -- and almost paid the price on at least one occasion.

It was a classic scenario -- a breakdown with one of the machines had left me under pressure, so even though there were no goggles handy, I proceeded to start angle-grinding a replacement part. Some 24 hours later I had a doctor sticking a pin into my eyeball in an attempt to extract a shard of metal that had lodged itself there.

As the advert says, I'm one of the lucky ones. I still have two eyes. But the incident taught me that no matter how responsible I thought I was, it wasn't good enough when it came to the crunch.

The same goes for a lot of farmers out there. With 22 farming deaths last year, our sector is by far the deadliest occupation in Ireland right now. In fact, it has a four times higher rate of fatalities compared to that other traditionally dangerous sector, construction.

This doesn't need to be the case. The rate of lethal accidents on farms in Britain is eight per 100,000 -- half of the Irish equivalent.

And yet the death toll continues to rise, despite awareness campaigns by the HSA and a 40pc increase in the rate of farm safety inspections.

The risk is that if farmers don't grasp this nettle, any control over how the situation is handled will be taken out of their hands.

There have already been several comprehensive reports recommending the introduction of compulsory training days and new mandatory safety standards at farm level.

The worst scenario from many farmers' points of view, but arguably the most effective, would be for farm safety to simply become another part of the cross-compliance inspections that farms are subjected to under the EU's payment schemes.

Penalties on the Single Farm Payment would focus minds very fast, even if it would be a sad indictment of the value farmers put on the safety of themselves, their families and their staff.

Indo Farming