Minister Frank Fahey at a major Safety event in Mellows College
“If a disease was killing our farmers in the same proportion that accidents are, people would be outraged and demand this killer be stopped”.
Many farmers bury their heads in the sand when it comes to safety, hoping that, if they ignore it long enough, it will go away. Statistics show that this will not happen. In the past ten years an average of 20 people is killed each year, while a further 3,000 are injured while working on farms. Behind these figures lies an enormous amount of pain and suffering.
Accidents are happening on the best of farms often operated by progressive hardworking farmers. Why? Many people have pondered this question and have come up with two broad answers. Firstly, we are a nation of ‘risk-takers’. This applies not only to farmers, but to all of us.
How many of you break the speed limit or overtake on a continuous white line? Join the club. We take risks because we are not always punished or we don’t fully understand the dangers in the risks, we take. Also, as a nation we don’t have a safety culture and this I believe is the single biggest obstacle to improving safety on farms. The “it won’t happen to me” syndrome is a commonly held opinion. Unfortunately, 3,000 farm families disprove this theory every year. There is a need for a radical change in our attitude to safety. Sadly, safety is not a priority on many farms. Without a positive attitude to safety, progress in reducing accident levels will be slow and we will continue to hear of distressing reports of farm deaths.
The second reason is human error. This results from lack of concentration and a false belief that we know everything! Rushing to get work done or being too familiar with their own farming situation causes farmers to neglect safety.
How safe is your farm?
in a recent study 75% of farmers said that farming was a very dangerous occupation yet in the same study 75% of farmers said their farm was safe. Many farmers are under the illusion that an accident can’t and will not happen on their farm.
Answer the following questions for your farm
Are all PTO shafts covered?
Are your tractors mechanically safe?
Do you take safety precautions when agitating slurry?
Do you use a roofing ladder/crawling board when working on fragile roofs?
Do you carry children on tractors without a fitted seat?
If the answer is yes to any of the above, then yes, a serious accident could happen on your farm. You have been warned.
How can you improve safety on your farm?
Awareness and acceptance are the first steps in the effort to improve safety on the farm.
A key message that l want to send to farmers is that accidents are both predictable and preventable. Each year, we know that three of every four accidents will involve tractors, machinery, animals, falling from heights and untidiness about the farmyard. We also know that the proper maintenance of tractors and machinery and the adoption of good work practices can prevent many accidents.
Because the causes of accidents are well known, the Health and Safety authority has recently sent to every farmer in Ireland a “Farm Safety Self-Assessment Document”. I would urge every farmer to complete the documents and assess the dangers on his farm. Often farmers are so familiar with own set-up that they are unaware of the dangers. This Document will, in a user-friendly way, help farmers improve safety on the farm.
Improving farm safety is not rocket science but it does require a lot of determination and commitment. Farmers have to take time out to assess their safety standards and take action to eliminate the problems. Having completed the self-assessment documents the farmer should now prioritise the actions he needs to take and place a time limit for completion.
No discussion about farm safety would be complete without reference to child safety. Growing up on a farm is a wonderful experience for a child. However, you need to take precautions to ensure their safety. Children have to be supervised on farms and need to be involved in discussion about safety on the farm. You might be pleasantly surprised how much they know. Finally, every farm should have a play area where children can play safely, while still aware of all the activity going on around them.
Above all, make the resolution to make safety a priority on your farm and remember the prize is great — peace of mind.
Frank Laffey, Mellows Agricultural College Principal, is Teagasc National Farm Safety Specialist
Written by Frank Laffey, College Principal
Published here 20 Oct 2023 and originally published Spring 2004
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