March 23rd 2015
ICSA president Patrick Kent has told today’s Seanad public consultation on farm safety that threatened cuts to EU supports will only serve to exacerbate farm safety issues.
“It is unacceptable that the EU Commission or the Government would threaten cuts to EU supports for safety shortcomings when general reductions to farm incomes are making it harder for farmers to ensure that all facilities and equipment are top-class,” said Mr. Kent. “Instead, extra funding for farm safety grants is required, particularly given that the most recent scheme has been over-subscribed. Policy decisions including the closure of REPS, the reduction in Pillar 1 payments and insufficient action against multinational retailers taking more margin from product have all served to reduce farm incomes, and more money must be made available to support farmers who want to make improvements.”
Mr. Kent also warned against an over-reaction to last year’s particularly high level of farm fatalities. “Fatality numbers had fallen in each consecutive year from 2010 to 2013. One exceptionally bad year does not confirm a trend, and we must guard against a knee-jerk reaction and take these figures in the wider context of overall health, safety and well-being. There are farmers suffering and even dying from stress related illness but that gets less attention, and again, targeted financial supports would do much to relieve this.”
“We must also ask whether it is really appropriate to compare agriculture figures with other sectors such as manufacturing, retail, professional or construction,” continued Mr. Kent. “ICSA believes that the only worthwhile and meaningful assessment of where we are at is to compare farms here with similar farms in other EU member states. We believe that Irish farm fatalities are neither better nor worse than comparable EU averages.”
“Given the current pressure on farmers to increase production, we have submitted a number of recommendations on farm safety,” said the ICSA president. “Education of children is vital, and ICSA has long been campaigning for the compulsory inclusion of farm safety on the primary school curriculum. Another option, the discussion group format, has proved very successful in other areas of agriculture, and could be developed to cover farm safety awareness through the use of HSA inspectors in a facilitatory role. Farm organisations and Teagasc continue to have a role in ensuring that farm safety is on the agenda for as many meetings as possible and that farm safety is promoted through all channels.”
“We also need a focus on minimising stress and prioritising mental health issues in a practical manner. The Department must endeavour to reduce or eliminate unannounced inspections where possible. Farmers should not have to endure delayed payment of EU supports due to bureaucratic technicalities. And of course, financial supports for farm safety must be expanded.”