It is ourselves and our loved ones that we are protecting

For farmers calving season can be a time of excitement, stress, relief and unfortunately high risk.

Long hours, sleepless nights, and at times strenuous physical activity can lead to farmers unwittingly putting themselves in situations of danger.

Accidents on farms cause more workplace deaths than all other occupations combined. The number of fatal accidents in the agricultural sector has been increasing for the last three years; while the overall number of fatal accidents in work places has been falling.

This is an alarming situation, and needs to change. It is the responsibility of all of us farmers to have our farms as safe as possible and to work in a safe manner – particularly at this time of year.

In recent years over 50% of all livestock fatal accidents have involved cows or heifers.

Unpredictable cows

Cows with newly born calves can be very unpredictable. They will see the approach of a person as a threat to their calf and will naturally take action to defend their calf.

While a cow may be docile during the year, at calving time, even the most docile of cows may become agitated. This can lead to serious accidents occurring if you are not fully prepared.

I’ve seen first-hand the devastation that follows farm accidents and fatalities. The impact on families and communities is unquantifiable; so I am appealing to farmers at calving time to take particular care.

I am reassured to see the HSA visiting farms at present. If proper facilities are in place, there is no reason why calving time should be dangerous.

It is important that all livestock farmers have suitable animal handling facilities on their farm. This includes sufficient numbers of calving pens equipped with calving gates.

It is vital that farmers have facilities that allow the cows to be safely restrained so that calves can be encouraged to suckle and be safely tagged. Such facilities also allow for the safe separation of cows and calves – this is a high risk situation after all.

Pens and buildings

It is important that farmers have safe systems of work in place at calving time, and for all work, to ensure that all the facilities are used correctly – it is no use having the best facilities if you do not know how to use them correctly.

Also you need to ensure that cows and calves can be safely moved between pens within buildings and between buildings, as cows may not be where you need them to be when they calve.

Remember cows will become agitated when they are separated from their calf or there is a threat of it. This is only a natural response, so great care and safe procedures are essential at this time.

No excuses

Safety must become an integral part of farming culture.

There can be no excuses to ignore safe working systems – it is crucial that all of us farmers plan our work and undertake whatever measures are necessary to make our farms safe places to work.

Behavioural change is urgently required to minimise risk and prevent future accidents. There is a lot of guidance available to help us farmers to make the change.

The Farm Buildings pages of my department’s website gives very useful information on the construction of safe facilities, and both the HSA and Teagasc websites have a lot of information to help us farmers operate in a safe manner.

Ultimately, it is us as farmers that must change our own behaviour regarding our farming practices to ensure that we and all others remain safe on our farms.

It is ourselves and our loved ones that we are protecting.