‘We need to stop the excuses around farm safety’

Farmers and those involved in agriculture need to ‘stop the excuses’ around farm safety, the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said.

He said he was shocked by the 30 fatalities on Irish farms in 2014. The next closest figure in the past 11 years was 22, he told a Seanad committee on farm safety.

“When 6% of the working population are suffering the burden, trauma and grief of 60% of workplace fatalities, something is very seriously wrong.”

This year, he said, is going to be the change year. “It has to be the change year.”

He said it is important to be honest and admit that farms are dangerous places.

“Even if one carries out a safety audit on one’s farm, even if one spends a fortune to get the most modern machinery available, even if one has a breeding programme to breed out negative traits from one’s herd in terms of temperament, ease of calving, and all of the other things that we are trying to do with better breeding programmes and even if one is the best farmer in the country, sometimes freak accidents happen.”

Therefore, he said, we must do everything we can to change what we do control to try to reduce the risk of those accidents occurring.

“I do not think we have done enough which is why we are spending more money and having this debate. We are trying to reduce that level of risk by using technology, better design and changing attitudes.”

He also said that women living on farms can play an important role in promoting safety.

“Some women are farmers themselves while others are involved in work that brings an income into the household. There is a need for families, internally, to challenge one another in terms of attitudes towards these issues.”

No farmer, he said, should go to work on their own for the day without being able to contact home.

“A safety mindset has nothing to do with technology. We need a change in attitude towards what might go wrong.

Unfortunately, many farmers talk about farm safety but they never really apply it to themselves.

He said too many farmers never think that they could be the next statistic or the next person being treated in the accident and emergency ward.

The most effective way, he said, of changing the way in which farmers approach things is learning from and wanting to get the best from different experiences of other farmers.

“We need to bring farm safety into that discussion. All of the new knowledge transfer groups, which is a snazzy name for discussion groups, are going to involve a mandatory farm safety course.

“In that way we will get farmers to talk to each other as well as talk to experts on farm safety and discuss how, in a practical sense, farmers need to respond in order to reduce the risk to themselves and to their families.”

He also said that for every fatality there are hundreds of accidents.

“For every fatality there are many families who are coping with rehab and lifetime injuries, physical and mental disabilities, trauma and post-traumatic stress, and many other things that scar families deeply.

“In many cases, members of the family never get over it in terms of the impact on family life.”

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