As the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine launches a National Farm Safety Initiative, and in a series of articles on farm safety, Sarah Corcoran recalls some of her close calls on the farm as child. 

Like many who have grown up in rural Ireland on farms, farming wasn’t a job for me or my siblings or my parents, it’s a way of life. I have been farming (standing in gaps) from such a young age that I cant remember. I guess that’s the way things were for many of us growing up on family farms and probably still is today. There was no differentiation between the home and the farm or the workplace.

I recall at a very young age, I can’t have been more than maybe seven or eight years of age, telling my Dad that I was ready to drive the tractor, a Massey 35, worth noting – it had no cab or safety frame fitted. I finally convinced him to take me for a spin and let me take over the reins. So off we went, dad started her up and put her into gear. I was in the driver’s seat and I was laughing with excitement thinking ‘this is great, I’m driving’, when really all I was doing was steering, with my dad standing on the step of the tractor beside me.

Then it all changed when my dad jumped off the tractor and my jaw dropped. I was on the tractor on my own. I had no idea how to stop the tractor and wasn’t even sure I could reach the breaks. To this day I’m not quite sure how I stopped, but I can remember how dangerous it was. When one hears about all the fatalities on farms in Ireland each year (four in 2013 and over 20 so far in 2014) and I often think about all the lucky escapes I had in my day.

For my dad, he was teaching me how to drive and sure what other way would you do it? He was also thinking about giving me what I wanted and keeping me happy. He wasn’t thinking about whether this may or may not be safe or that it may be against the law, in fact he probably wasn’t even aware that there was a law.

We all know ignorance is not an excuse. We also know a parent would do anything for their child. However, we must also know that we need to be the responsible person on the farm and allowing children to have free rein may not be the right thing and can lead to devastating circumstances.

This may be something that is alien to those of us who spent many years sitting on the back mudguard of our family tractors, however the reality is that in the last 10 years, tractors and farm machinery have accounted for nearly 50% of farm fatalities, and this does not include the countless serious injuries inflicted.

Work vehicles with or without a trailer, such as a land tractor or a JCB require that the driver be a minimum of 16 years of age, by law. Passengers are not permitted unless the tractor is equipped to carry them, meaning a proper seat and seat belt.

You can protect children from harm in many ways including warning them of the hazards and make them aware of safety issues, as well as:

·         Always remove keys from tractors;

·         Separate play and family areas from farm working areas;

·         Don’t leave running machinery unattended;

·         Don’t allow children to ride on or drive the tractor; and,

·         Make sure proper training is undertaken before allowing young adults to operate machinery.

Statistics don’t lie and ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law.

Sarah Corcoran
Environmental Health Specialist, Bord Gais Energy