Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

SFP 'safety' fines now a possibility

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Linking farm payments to an element of safety and health assessment should be considered in order to reduce accident levels on Irish farms.

The suggestion was made by Patrick Griffin, a senior inspector with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

Speaking at a conference for health and safety specialists at Kildalton College, Co Kilkenny, last Tuesday, Mr Griffin said the various bodies charged with reducing farm accidents had "run out of carrots".

The HSA official pointed out that several options were open to the authority where farmers failed to comply with farm safety regulations.

These included on-the-spot fines, prosecutions or linking direct payments to an element of safety and health assessment.

"For example, 1pc of the Single Farm Payment could be withheld for non-compliance with safety standards," Mr Griffin said.

While he admitted the authorities had been slow to penalise farmers in the past, he said the high number of on-farm deaths this year meant a harder line may be needed.

Eleven people have been killed in farm accidents so far this year, compared to 11 for 2009 as a whole.

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The conference heard that just eight farmers had been prosecuted in the past 20 years under safety legislation.

Mr Griffin maintained that a safety culture needed to be fostered in the farm sector. While he admitted this would be a long-term undertaking, he said it could change mindsets if it were given strong support by farmer leaders.

Pointing to his own personal experience in the mining industry, Mr Griffin said there was a perception that this was an extremely dangerous working environment.

However, he said an uncompromising attitude to safety meant it was now a far safer industry than farming.

"My own son doesn't know whether he wants to be a miner or a farmer but, at the moment, I'd be inclined to send him underground," Mr Griffin said.

The age profile of farm fatalities has also changed over the past few years, conference delegates heard.

John McNamara, national safety officer with Teagasc, explained that the percentage of older farmer deaths had fallen, while those of farmers of working age (17-65) had increased.

This was mainly due to the higher number of men of working age who had returned to farming after the economic downturn, Mr McNamara claimed.

Statistics for farm deaths since 2008 showed that 59pc involved tractors and machinery, 15pc were wood related, 10pc involved livestock, 7pc falls and collapses and 9pc from other causes.

Despite greater awareness of farm safety, Mr McNamara pointed out that just 5pc of farmers look for health and safety advice from Teagasc.

Irish Independent