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Farmers face prosecution for safety lapses in crackdown


Farmers are set to face harsher penalties if they breach farm safety rules

Farmers are set to face harsher penalties if they breach farm safety rules

Farmers are set to face harsher penalties if they breach farm safety rules

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is to crack down on farm safety breaches by prosecuting for safety lapses, such as carrying young children in tractors.

The HSA said a tougher approach was needed because of the high number of deaths on Irish farms, where 26 people have lost their lives already this year.

The new approach, involving court prosecutions, will replace the current 'softly, softly' approach, where farmers are issued with advisory notices requiring improvements when problems are found during farm safety inspections.

"With the level of fatal accidents this year and particularly the high number of children/young persons involved, we have reviewed our enforcement approach in the farming sector," the HSA said in a statement, adding that the new policy will kick in from January.

The change in policy is because, while most farmers will comply with instructions from an inspector, "the vast majority of them will wait for the inspection and are not proactive," it said.

"Sadly, many also wait until a very serious accident or a fatality occurs to improve their farm safety standards, and considering legal action at that stage is not a runner as generally the duty holder or a member of their family has suffered the injury."

The HSA said it would consider going straight to prosecution for three breaches where "a very high risk of serious injury or death can actually be reduced almost to zero and at very small cost".

These are:

- using an unguarded PTO (power take off) shaft which connects the tractor to machinery, as this creates a risk of entanglement;

- using tractors and other farm machinery while carrying children under the age of seven in the cab;

- having open or unprotected slurry pits or agitation points as there is a risk of people falling in.

Prosecutions will be in the District Court but the HSA said it did not know what level of fines might be imposed as there was no recent precedent.

But the Irish Farmers' Association criticised the move towards prosecuting farmers without first consulting other groups on the Farm Safety Partnership.

It is now seeking an urgent meeting with the HSA to discuss the new policy.

"Consistently, research has shown that the best way to improve farm safety is to change behavioural habits of farmers through education and training. Threatening prosecution does not reduce farm accidents or fatalities," said IFA Farm Family chairwoman Maura Canning.

The HSA said there have been 26 fatalities on Irish farms already in 2014, and over the last 10 years some 176 people died in farm accidents - nearly half involving tractors or machinery, 18pc in falls and collapses, and 14pc by livestock.

The latest case involved a Co Wexford farmer apparently smothered by barley in a shed last week.

Other farm fatalities this year have included an eight-year-old girl hit by a tractor bucket in Co Cork, and a woman trampled by cattle in Co Roscommon.

The Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (IOHS), which represents safety professionals, said that while farm bodies might not like the new approach, the old "softly, softly" approach was not working, with farm fatalities up 56pc this year.

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"We are supportive of this change if it will save lives," said IOHS vice president Declan Gibney. The HSA carries out around 3,000 safety inspections a year on Irish farms and said its educational and safety promotion work will also continue.

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