The farm is the most dangerous place to work in Ireland and it is critical that we change that, according to Ireland’s first minister responsible for farm safety.

Martin Heydon who is Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), has been given the first-ever farm safety portfolio, and he is determined to bring about real change during his tenure.

Accounting for 50% of all workplace fatalities over the past 10 years, farmers are seven times more likely to die while at work, despite only 6% of the Irish population working in the sector.

Speaking on the latest episode of Farmland, he said that he wants to curb these numbers and bring about a change in culture over the course of his term as farm safety minister.

“To be successful in bringing change to the area of farm safety, we need to change the culture across farming practices and how we address risk and hazard.

“If we do that, then we can reduce the number of fatal and life-changing accidents on our farms and, at the same time, raise awareness of challenges around mental health and isolation,” he said.

farm safety
Minister of State with responsibility for farm safety, Martin Heydon

The minister commented that there are many elements to improving farm safety including training and education, as well as awareness of everyday dangers.

“An awful lot of the causes of farm safety incidents, and people losing their lives on farms, is that they don’t identify the hazards that are there because they’re so used to seeing them everyday,” he said.

Farm safety aspects

The DAFM has recently partnered with Axa and Agriland Media Group for a digital-only campaign to promote awareness of farm safety.

The campaign will focus on different aspects of farm safety in parallel with the farming calendar.

During the calving season, the campaign is targeting livestock safety, asking farmers to be particularly aware of the dangers of freshly calved cows.

“We’re far more likely to have a serious incident with a cow that, for 11 months of the year is quiet, than with a bull. At that time, in the right circumstances, she can turn wicked, so don’t turn your back and take that chance,” he said.

Other factors, outside of physical hazards, influence farm safety as well, such as traditional methods of farming.

A cohort of farmers continue to work beyond the average retirement age, and some are forced to perform tasks alone, that, in reality, they need help with.

According to the minister, while 11% of the farm fatalities over the past decade were among children under the age of 18, 46% of them involved farmers over the age of 65.

This can also be exacerbated by a labour shortage as farmers struggle to retain staff in the face of rising inflation and input costs.

Minister Heydon said this is a problem across the industry:

“In some farming enterprises, [farmers] can’t afford to pay for the extra labour that’s needed. Then, you have older farmers dependent on the family to be home at the weekend, but if they’re not, they will do a job on their own.”

Mental health and well-being

The campaign will also focus on farmers’ mental health and well-being. Minister Heydon said he is eager to raise awareness of the struggles farmers can face, such as isolation and finding it difficult to cope with stresses around finances, income, animal welfare or paperwork.

As part of his portfolio, the minister is working on an initiative called On Feirm Ground involving around 800 farm advisors who are trained to engage with, and support, farmers on health and mental well-being issues.

The minister said he hopes that this will be expanded to a point where every interaction with farmers is treated as an opportunity to check in with them.

“We want to broaden that out to those who make deliveries, or maybe vets. Wherever there’s a contact with farmers, we need to make sure the opportunity isn’t missed to identify farmers that are struggling,” he said.

You can view the latest Farmland programmes in full by clicking here or tune into the Farmland Extra podcast on all major platforms.