Minister for farm safety outlines his priorities

When he was appointing the new ministers of state (or junior ministers), Taoiseach Micheál Martin took the unprecedented step of making farm safety a specific named brief for a particular minister.

Fine Gael Kildare South TD Martin Heydon was selected to fulfill that role, becoming Minister of State with responsibility for research and development; farm safety; and new market development.

So far this year, there have been 15 farm fatalities in the Republic of Ireland, with an uncommonly high number of deaths occurring during the height of the Covid-19 restrictions.

Speaking to AgriLand, Minister Heydon outlined why a specific farm safety brief is necessary, and what his priorities are in the role.

There is no doubt when you look at the figures that the farm is the most dangerous workplace by a distance.

“It’s something I am all too acutely aware of in my own time in farming, with people who live close to me and nearby, and recently my wife’s family had a bereavement as a result of a farm accident as well.

“The numbers are too high, and I’m really determined to work with all the sectors, and the HSA, to lead and drive a behavioural change that is essential across all the farming community,” he said.

Minister Heydon noted that the Covid-19 restrictions may have been a factor in the number of deaths so far this year, with more people being at home. He also highlighted that machinery was a particularly safety issues, according to the statistics.

I know from having three small boys at home on my own farm, it’s so hard, because our homes are in the middle of our farms, and it’s not like any other workplace. Trying to differentiate for children the area for play and the area for work, and trying to separate those, is difficult. Children have a lure to machinery as well.

He stressed: “More than anything, it’s about raising awareness and making sure safety is not an afterthought for farmers, but a first thought, and that’s what I mean by behavioural change.

“I’ll consider all the options open to us, and I’ll work very closely with the HSA to ensure that whatever we can do, safety becomes an integral part of every single day, and even more so on busy days.

“At harvest time, when farmers are working 12, 14 or 16 hours a day, and the rush is on and the weather is about to break, safety should be thought of then just as much as any another time,” Minister Heydon argued.

Background

41-year-old Minister Heydon is a suckler and tillage farmer from Co. Kildare. After his father passed away when he was eight, his mother kept the family farm going.

His wife is also of a farming background, and they have three children.

After first serving as a county councilor in Kildare, he was elected to the Dáil at the 2011 General Election. He is the first Fine Gael minister from Kildare in 23 years.