The European Parliament will debate the pressing issue of farm accidents and fatalities in May, MEP and First Vice-President of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness told a farm safety conference in Kildare today (Friday, April 20).

The issue is not just of concern in Ireland – where farming is the most dangerous occupation to be in – but is a concern across all member states, she said.

McGuinness was speaking at the ‘Safeguarding the Future of Farming’ farm safety conference at the Lyons Estate, Co. Kildare, this morning.

Family farm model

The MEP said the perception of farming – and our support for the family farm model as an ideal – needs to be moderated by the reality that “family farms” are not the safe and secure places they should be.

It’s time to acknowledge that the family farm model – which mixes family and the workplace – is adding to the unacceptably high level of farm accidents and fatalities.

“A less rigid and formal structure of work applies there than on other regulated businesses and workplaces.

“This is not to suggest that the family farm model has to be rethought, but to realise that the family and farm – if they are continue to mix – needs to see a change in behaviour, attitudes and work practices. Otherwise, the horror of farm fatalities and accidents will continue to plague our countryside.

“Pictures of family farms, especially at this spring time of year mask the realities of the harsh side of farming – in all weathers and under time and income pressures.

“Indeed media has a role to play here by deselecting any photographs and images of unsafe farming practices,” she said.

The MEP said she continues to be shocked at what is printed – both on paper and online – of farmers in dangerous situations, children on farms in very dangerous circumstances and unsafe farmyards and machinery.

She said it was time for a conscious decision by editors and others not to publish these images, as they inadvertently contribute to the status quo – which is unacceptable.

Bad habits

An ESRI study last year revealed that a quarter of farmers surveyed did not seek help for difficult jobs and did not use safety equipment such as goggles and hi-vis vests. In addition, 10% did not check machinery before use.

“In my work, I take flights twice a week and would be horrified if I thought the airline industry had such a hit-and-miss approach to safety.

“These statistics can be changed and must be changed, but it will take a multifaceted approach to the task,” she said.


McGuinness warned of the relentless pressure on farmers and farming families and that this “insidious pressure” to do more, to cut costs and to keep going is impacting on the mental health and wellbeing of farming communities on a global scale.

“This is contributing to accidents on farms,” she warned.

She said poor weather conditions and financial pressures mean rising stress levels.

“I’m heartened that farmers are talking about these pressures to each other, but I also know that some need professional help and should not be afraid to admit that the going is tough.”

Emphasising the importance of accurate data to aid policy formation, she said there is a weakness in accessing data for the EU 28 countries – but that she was pushing to address this in an Integrated Farm Statistics file currently going through parliament.

Figures are not collected on a common basis by all member states and it is impossible to make comparisons and know accurately what the overall picture is on EU farms.

“I have requested that the commission records figures on accidents, injuries and fatalities specifically on farms to get a more coherent picture of the situation,” she said.


Addressing the safety of quad bikes has also been a point of focus for McGuinness.

“I’ve asked the commission to consider introducing an obligation on manufacturers of quad bikes to have safety devices installed and possibly retrofitted,” she said.

The commission confirmed it will consider adapting relevant regulatory requirements, if required, on the basis of supporting data.

“Farm safety has always been an issue on the EU agenda, but never to the forefront. I want to change this,” she said.

In the upcoming debate on farm safety in the European Parliament, she said she wants the commission to address what actions can be taken to reduce the high level of accidents and fatalities on European farms.

“It’s an opportunity for MEPs to exchange best practice and learn from each other, but – more importantly – it is high time the issue received more attention.

“And in that context, I believe that farmers are the best teachers if they engage in the safety conversation and learn from each other.

Farm safety under CAP

“Within the framework of the next reform of the CAP, I want to know if the commission sees the need for a Europe-wide focus on farm accidents and farm fatalities. And I want the commission to acknowledge that low farm incomes and the relentless pressure on farmers in the food supply chain is a contributing factor to farm accidents and fatalities,” she said.

Parliament is currently preparing its position on what it expects from CAP reform. The MEP has demanded that action is taken to address the situation, via measures in Pillar II to support investments in safety measures and training.