Farm Ireland

Friday 27 April 2018

Child safety needs to be an urgent priority on farms: HSA

Safety experts have issued new warnings on farm safety ahead of the school holidays

Brian and Norma Rohan pictured on their farm in Co. Laois with their children Julie and Emily. The couple set up the Embrace Farm Support group for victims of farm accident's after Brian's father Liam was killed in an accident on the family farm. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Brian and Norma Rohan pictured on their farm in Co. Laois with their children Julie and Emily. The couple set up the Embrace Farm Support group for victims of farm accident's after Brian's father Liam was killed in an accident on the family farm. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

Ken Whelan

Farmers have been put on red alert once again as the summer school holidays get into full swing and the risk of farm accidents involving school children increases.

It is a grim warning but the reality is that these unbearable personal family tragedies occur every year and the only way to prevent them is through "commonsense and care" on every farm throughout the land.

There have been 22 fatal farm accidents involving children over the past decade and nearly half of these involved children under the age of seven years.

The breakdown of on-farm child fatalities and the associated statistics make for heartbreaking reading.

Eight children died following mishaps on tractors, seven following accidents on farm machinery, trailers and farm mechanical equipment, four from drowning and three from falls or collapses of farm structures.

Mother-of-two Norma Rohan urged families to sit down and have a "five minute conversation" about farm safety as the busy silage season gets into full swing.

Norma, along with her husband Brian, set up the support group for families of farm accident victims, Embrace Farm, after Brian's father, Liam Rohan, was killed in an accident on family's dairy farm at Shanahoe near Abbeyleix, Co Laois.

Liam (74), an experienced ploughman who represented his country in four world championships, died after he was struck on the side of the head as he removed a bolt in a relatively straight-forward repair job on a harvesting machine.

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Norma said more awareness is growing and their 'What's Left Behind' campaign has driven the message into many homes.

"One of those videos featured a little boy whose father spoke about how he died after falling into a soak-pit on the family farm. We had a call from a father in Cork who immediately called in a digger to fill in a hole on their farm. On Christmas day they took a minute out to think about the young boy and talk of farm safety on their farm," said Norma, urging others to always think about farm safety.

The emphatic message that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) wants to get across to farmers and farm visitors, parents and children alike, during this holiday season is simple - farms are working sites, not playgrounds or parks.

Pat Griffin, a senior HSA safety inspector told the Farming Independent this week, that the potential dangers on farms for children has to be given a much greater priority by everyone involved in the industry.

"Earlier this year the announcement by the Health and Safety Authority that it would prosecute farmers who allow children under the age of seven on tractors was greeted with amazement and some opposition by the various farming groups who saw it as an intrusion into farming life. This reaction came despite the fact that farming is possibly the only industry with deaths involving children," he said.

Mr Griffin said it would be useful if rural primary schools held classes in the run up to school holidays on farm safety for their pupils using the HSA's easily accessible and extensive website on farm safety as an information source for these classes.

However, he stressed that he did not want teachers to be solely responsible for farm safety issues at school level.

"Holding classes on safety in the run up to school holidays would help but farm safety is not the responsibility of teachers - it is the responsibility of farmers.

"The facts show that the majority of these accidents involve children living on the farm or their cousins or extended family," he said.

In a career which has seen him investigate many of these tragedies Pat Griffin told how he sometimes cannot comprehend how ambivalent farmers are to safety issues on their land.

"I investigated a slurry fatality some time ago where a farmer died despite the best efforts of his elderly father to save him. There was a young child was at the scene watching the tragedy unfold and obviously inhaling the toxic vapours which were in the air so there could have potentially been another fatality.

"And the amount of time I have seen children three and four abreast on tractors or on other farm machinery is just shocking," he added.

Mr Griffin believes there is an inter-generational reason why Irish farms have what could be regarded as an easy-going attitude to personal farm safety.

"Most farmers today spent their own youth running freely around their home farms and hopping onto tractors and quads and they see it as a lifestyle norm for their own children. But what they are forgetting is that Irish farms today are different. They are much busier workplaces now and contain much heavier, faster and more dangerous machinery. That's the difference," he points out.

At the moment Pat Griffin and his team of inspectors are continuing with their programme of farm safety visits and spreading their farm safety messages while also keeping an open eye for breaches of the safety code as it affects children on farms.

So far there have been no prosecutions for safety breaches in relation to children using farm machinery but you get the distinct impression that the safety inspectorate is not taking a "nothing happening here - move on" attitude to the problem.

Farm safety dos and don'ts

DO provide a safe and supervised play area for children on the farm

DO set ground rules for children on farms

DO Ensure all children are safe around tractors and machinery

DO Fence off all slurry pits, lagoons and watercourses on the farm

DO Make sure any children being carried on tractors or other machinery are safely secured

Don't allow children under seven near tractors or farm machinery

Don't allow children access to disused or high buildings on the farm.

Don't allow children on the farm while harvesting crops or making silage

Don't allow children unsupervised access to the farmyard

Don't allow children anywhere near slurry pits

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