‘I’ve stood in too many churchyards and graveyards’ – Creed

Mandatory farm safety inspections “cannot be taken off the table”, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has cautioned.

Over the last two weeks, four devastating deaths have occurred on Irish farms – bringing the official number of workplace fatalities in the agricultural sector to 18 so far this year.

In 2016, a total of 21 people were killed in farm related accidents, according to the Health and Safety Authority’s (HSA) annual report. In 2015, 18 farm deaths were reported.

Last Thursday (September 28) Denis Cullinane, a 33-year-old man, died after a trench collapsed in on him on a farm near Coachford, Co. Cork. This incident is not included in the above figure pending the outcome of the investigation.

On Thursday (September 21), well-known farmer Tony O’Malley (67) was killed when his quad bike overturned while he was spreading fertiliser in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

On Tuesday (September 19) former ploughing champion and father-of-three Martin Kehoe Jnr died after he was overcome by fumes near a molasses tank in Foulkesmills, Co. Wexford. He was the son of three-time World Ploughing Champion Martin Kehoe.

On Wednesday (September 13) Gary Askin, aged in his 20s, died after he was overcome by toxic fumes at a mushroom farm on the outskirts of Emyvale, Co. Monaghan.

Earlier this year, the HSA confirmed that farming is Ireland’s most dangerous profession, yet the worrying fatality trend is showing no signs of subsiding.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed is urging the farming community and all stakeholders to “redouble efforts on farm safety”.

What needs to change is this attitude that ‘it won’t happen to me’ because it is happening to too many people. It’s just calamitous and the statistics are unacceptably high.

“It’s going to take a collaborative approach, we’re doing health and safety modules through the Knowledge Transfer groups but I would like to tap into that good neighbourliness which is a great hallmark of our rural society.

“I would like to see farmers take it on themselves to look at their neighbour’s operation and identify the farm safety issues; because on our own farms we tend to become blind to the risks as we are navigating them every day.

“If someone comes into your farm with fresh insight, and that happens on a reciprocal basis, it would be a step in the right direction,” he said.

The HSA is projected to spend €287,000 on farm safety initiatives by the end of the year – equating to almost 20% of the HSA’s total expenditure on safety actions for 2017. The HSA confirmed that it is on target to complete 2,000 general farm safety inspections by the end of the year; including focused campaigns on animal handling, machinery and working from heights.

Despite increased awareness on the ground, concern over the heartbreaking statistics continues to rise.

Earlier this year, Phil Hogan, EU Commissioner for Agriculture, suggested that in the future Irish farmers may be faced with losing EU grant money for breaching farm safety rules.

Speaking to AgriLand, Minister Creed cautioned that potential mandatory farm safety inspections on all farms could be introduced as a solution.

“Whether it is compulsory inspections, I’m not going to take anything off the table because with due respect to all those that have been involved in accidents, fatal and otherwise, I think we need to be open to considering every option.

“At this moment in time I have no proposals to make them compulsory but I think it is incumbent on all of us to address this issue and how it can be improved.

We can have stick, we can have carrot and we can have common sense; and I would really like that we would have the latter. I’ve stood in too many churchyards and graveyards and family homes at wakes, it has to stop.