Opinion

It’s time to get tough, where farm safety is concerned

The last few weeks have seen a litany of serious accidents taking place on Irish farms. Each one was a tragedy for the families involved.

But in the cold light of day the fundamental question must be asked: could each of these incidents have been prevented.

The core problem is that farming, as an industry, never seems to learn the lessons of the past. And, in my opinion, government has a lot to answer for in this regard.

For years a softly-softly approach has been taken when it comes to farm safety inspections.

Ask the average farmer how much thought he or she gives to the health and safety implications of any task they undertake and, more often than not, the answer coming back will take the form of a blank stare.

Fundamentally, farmers and farm workers must have their safety – and the safety of others – paramount in their minds when it comes to getting into any machine or operating any piece of kit.

Put it this way, no sensible person would start a car without putting on the seat belt or, for that matter, getting into one after having had a drink. And it is this mindset that must be instilled within every farmer and farm worker, when it comes to their everyday work practises.

The Health and Safety Authority must be applauded for the work it has done in highlighting the impact of a serious farm accident on any business and the people involved with it . But, surely, it’s time to notch this activity up a gear.

By this I mean, putting the full vigour of the law behind a campaign which will really galvanise farmers to put safety first.

Twenty years ago the Irish building sector had the reputation of being the most dangerous industry to work in. But on the back of the government getting tough and hitting contractors in their pocket, the industry has revolutionised itself.

Today, nobody would be allowed to walk around a building site without wearing the required safety apparel. Woe betides any contractor who is found to be operating unsafe equipment and this is the way it should be.

So why can the same approach not be taken where farming is concerned? The Department of Agriculture has no end of inspectors visiting farms the year round.

There is no reason, then, why these people cannot be asked to include farm safety inspections as a high profile component of their brief?

This would mean that in cases where PTO covers are seen to be missing, the perennial ‘get that sorted’ retort would be replaced with: ‘you are going to lose a proportion of your single payment or ‘we will see you in court’.

It’s too late getting tough with people after a serious accident has taken place.

Surely, the onus must be on preventing accidents from happening in the first place and if this means fining farmers heavily for blatant breaches of the various safety codes, so be it.

Leadership on this crucially important issue must come from the top. And, fundamentally, this means Michael Creed announcing that his Department is going to get really tough, where farm safety standards are concerned.

It behoves the likes of the IFA and the other farming bodies to row in behind on this matter, not procrastinate from the side lines.

The fundamental fact remains that the death toll on Irish farms continues to rise and I am fully aware of the severe economic pressure on family farms at the present time.

As a consequence, farmers find themselves working for long hours with little return. But, surely anything that can be done to prevent even a single serious injury or fatality is one worth paying. To date, government has tried the carrot approach. Perhaps it’s time to get the stick out!

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