Call for establishment of farm safety authority

The founder of AgriKids, a safety educational platform for children, has called for the establishment of a farm safety authority.

“Its core aim would be to spearhead the resolution of the farm safety issue and to educate rural communities as a whole for a sustainably safer future on our farms. All too often the burden of responsibility is falling to farmers, but we all have a role to play,” said Meath-based Alma Jordan.

A farm safety authority, she said, could facilitate collaboration from all the organisations playing a role in farm safety awareness. “There are so many resources available that need to be compiled and organised and presented to schools and to adult farm safety events so that they are fully and properly utilised.”

Horrified by the high rate of farm tragedies in 2014, she went on to form AgriKids. “The rise in accidents that year really frightened me. We lost 30 people to farm accidents and five were children,” she said.

The deaths of two children that August, within days of each other, had a profound impact on me.  I cried for those little boys and was so desperately upset for their families, it could have been any one of us in that same situation.

“I hoped that they had a strong network to help them through that horrendous time,” said Jordan, who lives with her husband and son on a mixed farm with tillage, beef and thoroughbred horses, in Julianstown.

“I felt utterly helpless to the fact that they too could end up the victims of a farm accident if things didn’t change. My father and brother are also full-time farmers so the likelihood of the many ‘near misses’ materialising into a potential fatality or life-changing accident was alarmingly high.”

The Kildare native set out to see what resources were available to help her raise awareness and to start the conversation on safety within her own home. “However, I found that many of the resources were very much geared towards farmers themselves, using a language and tone that in my opinion was ineffective in its desired outcome,” she said.

Text alerts with safety reminders were paid little heed and more often than not deleted, and flyers and inserts, all with farm safety advice and tips, found their way into the bin. The all-too-often phrase, ‘It won’t happen to me’ rang like ambulance sirens in my ears.

“I realised that if we truly wanted to reduce our on-farm accident levels, we needed new thinking in how we handled the topic – an approach that was more positive and engaging as well as being educational and empowering,” Jordan said.

She identified children as the potential vehicles for much-needed change. “I worked with Repak and had some involvement with the An Taisce green schools programme. I witnessed firsthand how influential and proactive children were in bringing the recycling message from the classroom into their homes. As natural learners, they love to share their learning. If children can help us improve our capability to reduce, reuse and recycle, I thought that maybe they could do the same for farm safety.”

AgriKids was founded in 2015 from this thinking. The ethos has remained steadfast: to engage, educate and empower children to be farm safety ambassadors.

A series of story books ‘Tales from Riverside Farm’ launched AgriKids. “Every book’s theme is central to a specific area of concern regarding farm safety such as livestock, machinery and falls,” said Jordan.

“I funded these myself and it was only when I got accepted into the Enterprise Ireland  innovation arena at the National Ploughing Championships that I realised I could get funding to develop other resources to help my campaign. Thanks to Enterprise Ireland, I received a start-up fund and immediately put that into the development of a gaming app and an interactive website. They provided me with more ways to help children learn, using the mediums they are so fluent in.”

Recently the focus has been on farm safety workshops, which she runs in schools and libraries throughout the country.

“These only came about after a librarian asked me if I did workshops. As my head was screaming “No,” my mouth had already agreed to a location and a series of dates for libraries in the Fingal area. It was the best thing I ever did and over the last two years I have carried out these workshops for over 6,500 children.”

Initially she could only visit local schools due to the cost of travelling further afield. Zurich Insurance stepped into the breach, partnering with AgriKids for the next three years. “With its help I can now reach more and more of these rurally-based schools. Already I have events lined up for 2018 in Mayo, Kildare, Westmeath, Monaghan, Kilkenny and Tipperary,” she said.

“My husband, Mark Delany, has been a tower of strength. Without him I don’t think AgriKids would be anything like it is today. I asked him recently how I would know if AgriKids was making a difference. His response was that I may never know if an accident has been prevented because of AgriKids.

“I may never know but from my community on social media and from the people I meet at various events, I am heartened by how they are finding great use for AgriKids’ resources. They are tremendously encouraging with comments and feedback.”

Jordan finds the school events another great motivator. “I have not yet left an event questioning if the children took the topics on board. Their excitement and enthusiasm for the topic is infectious.”

She is heartened to hear how messages reach parents.

One farmer was told by his eight-year-old son how their farm needed more safety signs, and was instructed on which ones should go where. However, the story of how a farmer modified his tractor so his 11-year-old son could reach the pedals is a reminder that we still have a mountain to climb to change our attitudes.

Jordan’s longterm aim is to get farm safety developed into an educational programme for primary schools. “Under the requirements of the SPHE curriculum, farm safety is included so it already has its place reserved and to date I have been fulfilling much of that.”