It is very sad to see a surge in the number of accidents on our farms. This year, there have been nine fatal incidents on farms. Three have involved children and five have involved people over 65. Eight have occurred during the Covid-19 restrictions.
There is a tremendous sensitivity in writing about this subject, but this is something we need to be talking about.
There has been a remarkable level of public awareness of the need to flatten the Covid curve. Faced with an overwhelming public health imperative, practices such as physical distancing, coughing etiquette and hand sanitising have become a cultural norm.
We need a similar and immediate cultural shift if we are to make a real impact on the prevalence of farm accidents. Farm safety has to built into our DNA. We have demonstrated with our collective response to Covid that this can be done.
I have seen first-hand the devastation that follows farm incidents and fatalities.
I am appealing to farmers to take time to think about farm safety every morning, before you go out into the yard. You should always plan your work. Pause and think:
■ how am I going to do this job?
■ do I have everything I need?
■ are there other people, machinery, obstructions or livestock in the area I'm working in?
■ and is what I propose to do safe?
This approach does not cost anything. It only takes a few minutes. It does, however, require conscious reflection on farm safety every single day, and before every single job is tackled.
While farms are high-risk workplaces, farming does not have to be dangerous. Behavioural change can reduce the risks and prevent future accidents.
There are additional risks just now, with children at home from school or older people cocooning on farm. So we need to be doubly careful.
Farm safety cannot be left to someone else. It has to be lived by the farmer, and built into the routine.
I'm aware of the alarming recent trend of sharing material online which shows reckless behaviour on farms.
This material is clearly being shared on the mistaken premise that such behaviour is in some way funny.
There is nothing funny about serious injury brought about by an accident with machinery. I have stood in too many church yards over the years of young people taken before their time owing to farm accidents. I never saw laughter.
My Department, in conjunction with other State Agencies, is focused on changing farmer behaviour in relation to health and safety. Research has shown that behavioural change is the key to reducing the level of accidents on farms.
The research shows that farmers are generally aware of the risks, but often don't adhere to the safety rules or take specific steps to ensure that the work they are engaged in can be done safely.
We all need to ensure that farming safely and being healthy are integral parts of our farming culture.
We need a collective and a personal commitment to improving the culture of safety in all tasks performed, particularly with farm vehicles, machinery and livestock.
We must all work together with the single goal of preventing accidents and therefore saving lives.
Michael Creed is the Minister of Agriculture Food & Marine