2nd February 2015
ICSA rural development chairman Billy Gray has called for a sense of perspective and balance to be brought to the farm safety debate. “Nobody wants to see a repeat of 2014 in which there were 30 farm related fatalities. However, when you are dealing with random accident figures, one year where the fatalities are higher is not necessarily concrete evidence of a trend. Moreover we need to avoid knee jerk responses, which are imposed just to be seen to be doing something.”
“We need proper assessment of where we stand. Comparisons with other sectors are meaningless – what is needed is a direct and meaningful comparison with farm safety in other EU member states. The Health and Safety Authority needs to publish a direct comparison between Irish and EU farms so that we can make a more meaningful examination and also see what lessons can be learnt.”
Mr Gray noted that there was no fatality involving a PTO shaft in 2014 which was positive but he added that machinery manufacturers cannot be left off the hook when it comes to PTO shafts which are not made to last.
He also pointed out that any effort to cut the EU supports on farms that have safety deficiencies would be ridiculous. Lack of income is the main reason for deficiencies in equipment or facilities on farms and this is a particular problem on cattle and sheep farms. “The fact that the Farm Safety grant scheme is over-subscribed demonstrates the willingness of farmers to do what they can. Further funding in this area would be far more beneficial than cutting EU supports.”
However, Mr Gray said that the whole issue is complex. “Farmers working on their own with unpredictable livestock is inherently risky. Low income means more part-time farming which leads to greater pressure to get work done at nights and weekends and at the same time means that livestock can be wilder.”
He also pointed out that many farms do not have a successor. “Of the thirty farm fatalities last year, six involved farmers aged in their seventies and four involved farmers in their eighties. Do we ban all over-65s from the farm? Of course not. We need to balance the fatalities of the elder farmers with the reality that many farmers continue to take an active role in farming in their later years and derive tremendous health benefits – both mental and physical – from staying active. Ideally there would be more young farmers in the area available to help the older farmers but this is hampered by the fact that many young farmers are working off-farm due to insufficient farm income.”