50% of workplace fatalities happen in agriculture sector – Heydon

50% of all workplace fatalities in Ireland happen in the agriculture sector, yet agriculture only makes up about 7% of the entire workforce in the country, according to Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Martin Heydon.

The junior minister, who has responsibility for farm safety made the comments during an in-depth interview with AgriLand editor, Stella Meehan.

Minister Heydon said that the figures show that the agriculture sector is by far the most dangerous workplace in the country, with unacceptably high levels of very serious incidents as well as deaths.

“We’ve had 17 deaths this year which is 17 too many and when you look at the breakdown of those, nine of those are people over the age of 65 and three were children under the age of eight. Definitely in the earlier part of the year when everyone was at home, schools were off at that time in terms of the inital Covid-19 lockdown, we saw a lot of fatalities at that time.

We have to change the culture. We have to change farm safety from being an afterthought to being the first thought in every day and if kids are home over Christmas, farmers need to be acutely aware of that.

The minister outlined to AgriLand (in the video below) that the conversation about farm safety needs to be had around the kitchen table…

Identifying hazards

The minister went on to say: “Where there are hazards identified, they need to be fixed because too often we put things on the long finger. With the accelerated capital allowance that I secured with the cooperation of my colleague, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe in the Finance Bill, it’s the first time ever we’ve had a list of farm safety measures accepted in the Finance Bill for an accelerated capital allowance.”

The minister said this is effectively the farmer’s ability to get the full cost of that investment back over two years against their tax bill.

Currently, capital allowances are available at 12.5% per annum over eight years for agricultural equipment generally. The proposed new scheme will allow for accelerated capital allowances of 50% per annum over two years for certain eligible equipment.

“Those list of measures has a two-fold approach: One was the preventative measures; things like anti-backing gates; investing in chemical stores; lifters for half-tonne bags of fertiliser that generally up until now farmers have used loaders and it’s not as safe.

“For farmers with low-income farms, it has been hard for them to justify financially investing in farm safety measures, yet we know if it saves a life, it’s the best investment you’ll ever make. But I suppose the fact is, no farmer ever thinks he or she is going to be the victim of a farm incident that could take their life or could permanently maim them.

“The accelerated capital allowance is about encouraging them to make that investment. The other half of it is for people who have suffered significant disablement; life-changing injuries as a result of farming incidents, Minister Heydon added.

Injured farmers

“I came across in my dealings with organisations like Embrace Farm and others and meeting victims, that there are people who lose a limb, who have become wheelchair-bound because of an incident on a farm and not only financially do they need to get back to work, but mentally they need to be able to do that,” the minister said.

“It has been prohibitive for them to be able to adapt the tractor or machinery for their new circumstance so half of the list of the measures in the new accelerated capital allowance is for hoists for people in a wheelchair to get into a tractor; wheelchair restraints; modification of machinery to move from foot pedals to hand pedals; this is all very expensive stuff to do; quick hitches so that you don’t have the dismount from the tractor to pick up machinery and such things.

“I want farmers to be aware it’s there – we can draw down up to €5 million worth of allowances under this,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine runs the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).The scheme offers grant aid of 40% towards the cost of certain on-farm capital investments and up to 60% in the case of young farmers.

Speaking about the accelerated capital allowances, Minister Heydon said: “It will be administered through the Department of Agriculture. I want farmers to be aware of it, to apply for it and I want to make sure that this accelerated capital allowance, that was very hard fought for, is now used and taken up by farmers.

“The other thing that I got in the budget on farm safety was €1 million towards the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) model. It’s a European scheme co-funded, that takes community-led ideas, new innovative ideas that would start on a small basis in a community, where people would apply for part of that €1 million funding to develop a new idea that we would fund and pilot over the course of a year and if it was successful and worked well we would then look to scale it up.

I want farm safety to be an integral part of the new CAP [Common Agricultural Policy], so the €1 million is there. I would hope that we would be able to fund at least four or five different ideas.

Those wishing to apply with their idea for consideration can do so up until January 29, 2021. At that point, Minister Heydon will set up an expert evaluation committee and the best ideas will receive funding.

“If there are new innovative ideas that people have, that they want to trial in terms of farm safety; in terms of farmer wellbeing as well and even addressing the areas of isolation; loneliness; mental health and wellbeing is just as important because if a farmer can’t mind their own mental health how can they mind their farm and their livestock and their safety on that farm?” the minister concluded.