‘Idyllic portrayal of the family farm is far removed from hard reality’

The “idyllic portrayal” of the family farm is “far removed” from the hard reality of day-to-day tasks undertaken by farmers dealing with heavy machinery and livestock, MEP Mairead McGuinness has warned.

The First Vice-President of the European Parliament was speaking yesterday at the Tullamore Show where she launched a special 32-county farm safety event organised by Embrace Farm and entitled ‘Drive to Remember’.

The Midlands-North and West representative also opened the ‘Farm Safety Live’ stand on the grounds of Butterfield Estate near Tullamore, Co. Offaly.

Speaking on farm safety, McGuinness described the Drive to Remember event as a “superb” awareness raising and remembering initiative that will “shine a light” on lives lost on farms in every county of the island – while also recalling all those injured, many seriously, in accidents over the years.

Under the campaign, a tractor donated by WR Shaw of Tullamore will visit all counties over the next few weeks. It will be driven by members of Macra Na Feirme and the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster.

I cannot praise highly enough the work of Brian and Norma Rohan who set up Embrace Farm following their own family tragedy.

“The charity is helping farm families dealing with tragic accidents. It’s also keeping the crucial issue of farm safety in the public eye,” she said.

Also launching the ‘Farm Safely Live’ stand the MEP said attitudes to and within farming “must change” if the sector is to seriously address the “totally unacceptable level” of accidents on farms – which lead to a high level of fatalities and serious injury.

The stand, jointly organised by the Farm Relief Service, FBD and the Health and Safety Authority, focuses on ways to reduce accidents when working with machinery and livestock.

EU response

The MEP herself is working for an EU-wide response to the issue. Already this year 16 people have been killed on farms in the Republic of Ireland, with seven killed in the 2017/2018 period in Northern Ireland.

“It is likely that many of these people – men, women and a child – were here at the Tullamore Show last year.

It is a huge tragedy for the families left behind and we must make every effort to ensure that in a year’s time we do not see a repeat of these awful statistics, with all the heartache it brings.

“I am concerned that, because farming is family-based, there is a different attitude to safety procedures and risk assessment than would be the norm in any other business – including family run businesses.

“We have to ask why this is the case and then to address this problem head-on. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and the farm organisations are working together to hammer home the risks farmers face when they step into the farmyard.

“There is a keen awareness among farmers that the work they do can be dangerous and that precautions are needed to remove the risk of accidents happening. Yet, this awareness is often left behind when routine jobs are undertaken or when particular jobs are being undertaken under pressure,” said McGuinness.

The MEP pointed out that it is precisely during these time-pressured and stressful periods that the clear priorities identified by the HSA as a means to farming more safely are implemented – particularly advance planning.

Training

The MEP said training is also important for farmers of all ages – even those who have been doing the job for years – learning how to manage and control machinery and animal movements is especially important.

We know that half of all deaths on farms are associated with machinery or tractor use. Tractors and quads are the most deadly machines in the country.

And, she said, age is also a factor with farmers over age 60 at very high risk of death and injury.

“The farmyard is a place of work and places of work must be safe to work in with procedures practiced to ensure that risks are mitigated. If we are going to save lives and protect those who work on farms from serious injury then farms must be treated like any other workplace in terms of health and safety,” she said.

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