Agri Aware says farm safety message must hit home

Agri Aware Executive Director, Deirdre O’Shea, has appealed to young people to think ‘safety first’ on farms.

She urged the children of Scoil Mhuire Fatima, Timahoe, to bring that message back to their families and local communities, especially to their grandparents and elderly neighbours.

O’Shea was speaking in her home county of Laois on Monday, June 19. She was in Timahoe to present the pupils with their sixth Science Foundation Ireland ‘Excellence in Maths and Science’ award.

A native of Arles, O’Shea’s father and brothers run a commercial pig farm. Founded by her grandfather, Michael O’Shea, who was originally from Co. Kerry, this is one of only 300 commercial pig farms left in the country.

Still, the rising toll of deaths due to accidents on Irish farms is of serious concern to Agri Aware, O’Shea said.

To date this year, there have been 12 fatalities on Irish farms. Young people and elderly farmers are particularly vulnerable.

“A behavioural change is needed, and we can achieve that by asking primary school children to educate adults, especially older adults,” she said.

The Timahoe fifth class showed off their farm safety slogans, which they entered in a competition. These included Eoin Shortall’s ‘Slurry Gas Ain’t Class’ and Caoimhe Ramsbottom’s ‘You are the Key to Farm Safety.’

“The pupils were very clued-in to the whole area of farm safety. Another pupil highlighted the danger of PTO shafts,” O’Shea said.

Agri Aware’s safety awareness DVD ‘Once Upon a Farm’ was discussed in all classes.

The UCD nutrition graduate worked in the agricultural department of Ulster Bank before spending three-and-a-half years with the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

There, her focus was on pig meat and forestry. “That gave me a great grounding in dealing with various committees and working on policy issues. Last November, I joined Agri Aware,” said O’Shea.

She was keen to highlight to the Timahoe pupils what she sees as the breadth of opportunities available in agriculture and the agri-food sector in general.

“Whatever your interest, from genetics to journalism, and technology to research, there is a role for you,” she said.

“The food sector is a huge employer, with one in every eight jobs linked to this area.

“We exported €11.5 billion worth of food and drink in 2016.

“School visits are a great way of getting across to children that the milk or meat produced on Irish farms, could end up in various markets around the world, and that it is sought-after because of our grass-based system.”

With agricultural science now more widely available at second level, O’Shea advised young people to think ahead and consider agriculture as a sector in which they could pursue rewarding careers.

“A lot of work has been done by Agri Aware, and stakeholders in the industry, on updating the second level agricultural science syllabus, which we expect to see come to fruition in the very near future,” O’Shea said.