Let’s make farm safety a real priority for 2018

Fortunately, 2018 has arrived with no news of any fatal farm accident or safety-related on-farm incident being reported.

And let’s hope it stays that way for the rest of the year and beyond. The last thing we want is the spectre of such dreadful news coming to the door of any farming family in Ireland.

The fundamental fact remains that farming is now the most dangerous career pathway to follow in this country.

Back in the day such was the ‘unenviable’ reputation that hung around the construction sector like a lead weight.

But that all changed, once the authorities decided to get tough with that particular industry. And rightly so!

I remember getting a job on a building site as a student. On the first day I arrived for work wearing a pair of trainers. Five minutes later I found myself being escorted to the front gate by the clerk-of-works and told not to come back until I was wearing the appropriate foot wear.

That little matter was quite quickly resolved, but I remember that the site received two health and safety inspections during the three-month period of my stay.

Let me be clear about this: Pushing ahead with lots more farm awareness events and producer-focused training initiatives are crucially important, where farm health and safety matters are concerned.

But there has to be balance struck by government between the carrot and the stick approach that can be taken.

I firmly believe that the relevant authorities must take a decision in the very near future to become much more focused in the way they address health and safety standards on farms.

One way that farmers can be made take more notice of the issue –in a truly meaningful way – is to hurt them in their pockets. Anything that can be done to save even one life, or cut the accident rate on local farms to any significant extent, should be given a fair wind.

And if this means upping the number of farm safety inspections and proactively fining those farmers found not to be fully compliant – as a matter of course – where’s the problem?

The past few days have seen the proposed introduction of swingeing, new penalties for traffic speeding offences in this country. And we are fast approaching a scenario of ‘zero tolerance’ where drink driving is concerned.

Surely, this is the mind-set change that will be required to deliver real change, when it comes to ensuring that farmers make their own health and safety – and that of their families – a number one priority.

Obviously, there are times of the year when farmers are engaged in activities that come with a very obvious risk warning. As we all know, the coming weeks will see inordinate volumes of slurry mixed and spread on farms across the country.

It goes without saying that farmers and contractors should be fully aware of the dangers associated with the use of heavy machinery and the acute health risks connected with the inhalation of slurry gases.