Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

We need to link farm safety with direct payments

We need to change our policy on farm safety.
We need to change our policy on farm safety.
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The time for linking some basic level of farm safety to direct payments is fast approaching.

While the farm organisations will yell and roar over the suggestion, a virtual doubling of farm deaths last year has brought the issue into sharp focus.

In all, 30 people were killed on the country's farms or almost double the 2013 figure of 16.

This is a serious escalation of the problem and yet the farm organisations are adamant there can be no linking of the issues of farm safety and EU payments.

Indeed, one farmer representative I talked to last week got more than a little hot under the collar when the possibility of tying farm safety to farm payments was mentioned.

He pointed out that safety procedures on farms were not comparable with those employed in an industrial environment.

Therefore, he argued that comparing death rates in both sectors was akin to mixing up apples with oranges.

This sentiment was shared by all of the farm organisations.

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"IFA is strongly opposed to any link between farm safety and payments as it will not bring about the sustained behavioural change that is required to make our farms safer and will only add to the stress on farm families," said IFA president Eddie Downey.

He maintained that changing behaviour and working practices was key to reducing farm accidents.

ICSA rural development chairman Billy Gray called for a sense of perspective and balance to be brought to the farm safety debate.

"Nobody wants to see a repeat of 2014 in which there were 30 farm related fatalities. However, when you are dealing with random accident figures, one year where the fatalities are higher is not necessarily concrete evidence of a trend.

Moreover we need to avoid knee jerk responses, which are imposed just to be seen to be doing something," Mr Gray said.


The ICSA man went on to make a valid point when he noted that of the 30 deaths in 2014, six involved farmers aged in their 70s and four involved farmers in their 80s.

"Do we ban all over-65s from the farm?" Mr Gray asked.

Of course the answer is no.

But do we keep pottering along and just hope that matters improve?

Equally, the answer to this question has to be no.

The farm organisations have successfully lobbied politicians over the years to halt any link between farm safety and direct payments.

Indeed, EU Commissioner Phil Hogan appeared to be willing to take a stand on the issue when he told the IFA's 60th anniversary celebrations that Brussels had taken note of the rise in farm fatalities.

However, he has since rowed back, insisting last week that any linkage of farm safety and EU payments would be a last resort.

Farming has become a very bureaucratic business and farm inspections have become a serious concern for farmers.

But surely 2014 has proven that the farm safety measures we currently employ are not working.

A change of policy is needed and farmers should at least be required to have PTO covers on all machinery, slurry pit barriers in place and decent cattle handling facilities.

Wringing our hands after each death won't do.

Indo Farming