A combination of fine weather, silage harvesting and reckless behaviour by a minority of people using machinery for video pranks have added to farm risks, writes Ray Ryan
A combination of fine weather, silage harvesting, the continuing closure of schools and colleges and reckless behaviour by a minority of people using agricultural machinery for video pranks have combined to create multiple risks inside and outside the farm gates.
It has led to State agencies and farm leaders issuing appeals for safety on roads and on farms as the country begins to slowly reopen after a two-month lockdown in order to protect public health from the virus pandemic.
The IFA and the Road Safety Authority have jointly urged all drivers to share the roads safely.
They want farming contractors to remember that roads are becoming busier with pedestrians and cyclists as some of the Covid-19 restrictions are eased.
IFA president Tim Cullinan said it is also a busy time on farms as contractors work on bringing in the silage.
“Normally at this time of the year both the IFA and the RSA appeal for motorists to be on the lookout for tractors, trailers and other agricultural machinery exiting from fields and farmyards, and while traffic volumes have reduced, this advice still stands,” he said
Mr Cullinan said both bodies were making a special appeal in the current situation to anyone driving farm machinery,especially on rural roads,to cut back on their speed. Around every corner could be a neighbouring family or friend out for a walk, jog or a cycle.
“We should all expect the unexpected. We have learnt already this year, whether on the farm or on the road, that there is no place for complacency,” he said
RSA road safety education director Michael Rowland said this is oneof the busiest times of the year for farmers. Despite the extraordinary circumstances, this work must continue.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he urged drivers of farming machinery to be more aware of what is going on.
“With increased numbers of people of all ages out walking, running and cycling it is imperative that we all take greater care and follow the rules of the road.
“Coupled with a gradual increase in the distance people can travel from home and an increase in agricultural vehicles on the roads for silage cutting, the risks increase.
“We would remind every road user not to be distracted by wearing earphones while out walking or cycling and urge drivers not to use a mobile phone while driving tractors.
“Such distractions can prevent those out walking from hearing danger approaching or prevent drivers from noticing the family out walking orcycling around that corner,” he said.
Pedestrians are also being reminded of the rules of the road. This includes using a footpath where one is provided.
Where there is no footpath people must walk as near as possible to the right-hand side of the road facing oncoming traffic.
Pedestrians are being urged to ensure they are visible to other users, cyclists and vehicles, especially when walking in the early morning and late evening.
They are also being advised to always assume they will encounter traffic on the road regardless of the current restrictions.
Drivers of agricultural vehicles are also being reminded that they are subject to all road traffic legislation.
They are required to carry the appropriate licence while farm vehicles are required to be taxed,insured and must be roadworthy, including fully operational lights, front and rear.
Urging farmers to take the lead role in addressing this issue, Mr Cullinan said that starts at home on their own farms.
“There have been 10 confirmed deaths on Irish farms this year. This is not just a statistic. Behind the numbers are heartbroken families,” he said.
The IFA leader said the reality of the figures is that all injuries and death on farms are devastating for the families involved.
“Farmers need to be serious about recognising the dangers of their workplace. They need to minimise all risks while taking on every job, both for themselves and others,” he said.
Mr Cullinan said the presence of more children and young adults at home on farms increases the risk of injury and death.
“We are also in silage season, with contractors and machinery operators working flat out trying to get through the workload.
“It is the middle of the breeding season with cows, young calves, and stock bulls which can be especially dangerous at this time of year and as the summer progresses.
“Caution is also needed for those who operate quad bikes on farms.
“While they are a very useful tool for any farm, they are also high-risk, particularly if driven too quickly or with passengers,” he said.
Mr Cullinan said farmers must slow down; plan the job out; use proper equipment; and keep others back. There is nothing more precious than life. The work will always get done.
The IFA leader hit out at people recording pranks with farm machinery for uploading on social media.
“This practice is grossly irresponsible and is an accident waiting to happen. I am disgusted that people could be so casual and have no regard for the dangers involved in what they are doing,” he said.
Mr Cullinan said all farmers and contractors need to make it clear to their employees that engaging in these practices is a sackable offence.
The Health and Safety Authority said farmers and contractors must take a zero tolerance approach to this type of behaviour.
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president Pat McCormack said that people driving tractors while filming themselves for upload onto social media platforms was “dangerous, irresponsible and had to stop”.
It was an invitation to tragedy, he said, urging those who engaged in it to stop “if not for their own sakes then for the sakes of other roadusers who will end up injured or worse when the inevitable accident happens”.