Taking care of children on farms

With restrictions on movement, there should be an increased focus on farm safety, writes Ray Ryan.
Taking care of children on farms

With restrictions on movement, there should be an increased focus on farm safety, writes Ray Ryan.

A renewed appeal has been issued for farm safety against a background of increased anxiety due to the Covid-19 crisis.

This is traditionally a busy time for farmers, but the need for increased caution is now more obvious than ever with children on an extended break from schools and strict biodiversity measures in place to try and halt the spread of the virus.

With farming continuing and all other attractions closed, Teagasc says the time that children spend on farms will be high.

It is a good idea for parents to set aside some time to think and talk about dangers and risks around the farm and how best to minimise them for the children.

“Parents know the farm, the farmyard, and their kids, best of all. They need to set ground rules. Children should never be allowed into the farmyard unless supervised. Parents should try to make a safe play area,” it says.

IFA president Tim Cullinan said with children off school at present and with older ones helping out on the farm, the best of the farm family model is at work.

“However, this also increases the need for total vigilance regarding farm safety. Farmers must pay particular attention and ensure that children are aware of the dangers on the farm and are supervised at all times.

“A farm can be a wonderful place for children, where independence and responsibility are fostered. The Irish family farm is at the centre of our food supply chain, the security of which has never been more important.

“However, it can also be a dangerous place where the unthinkable can happen in a matter of seconds. Children are expected to be at home for an extended period of time, with social isolation meaning their activity outlets are curtailed,” he said.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association has also called on farmers to be extra cautious with many children now on busy farms coming into the peak milk production period.

Farm and Rural Affairs Committee chairperson Denis Drennan said that farm safety has to be paramount. “We can rebuild everything except injury or worse,” he said.

Over the years various agencies have that a farm is also a home with little separation between the two.

It is, therefore, a hazardous place with machinery movement and other risks from slurry tanks and silage pits, which should be off-limits to children.

Farmers, as food producers are, of course, crucial to ensuring the supply chain is kept open in this period of national emergency. Any injury resulting from an accident has added implications for maintaining the chain in these difficult timers.

Children should never be allowed into the farmyard unless supervised. Parents should make a safe play area.
Children should never be allowed into the farmyard unless supervised. Parents should make a safe play area.

It could jeopardise the running of a farm, require medical or hospital treatment and put even more pressure on frontline health workers.

Farming however, remains the most dangerous workplace sector in the country with 18 fatalities last year, three more than in 2018. Teagasc is urging all farmers to work methodically and organise all the tools, equipment and supports needed to do their work safely.

However, a recent Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report indicates that 26% of farmers “never, rarely or sometimes” use safety protective equipment such as goggles and ear defenders where required.

It also says that farmers who do not use safety equipment have a 49% higher risk of having a farm accident.

The study also shows that farmers who do not check agricultural machinery before use have a 59% increased risk of injury while the risk to those who do not use animal restraints is 58%.

Teagasc health and safety specialist John McNamara said planning ahead is critical to prevent farm injury.

He said Teagasc recently issued an updated version of its booklet Farm Workshop Safety to provide guidance on key measures required when repairing or maintaining agricultural machinery.

Farm machinery and milking machine specialist Francis Quigley, the book’s co-author, said a considerable amount of information and knowledge is needed to undertake machinery maintenance and repair.

“This booklet outlines concisely the key information required. A check-sheet provided within the booklet will assist farmers and contractors to manage a farm workshop from a safety perspective,” he said.

Pat Griffin, senior inspector with the Health and Safety Authority, said many dreadful farm accidents over the years have been in workshops.

He urged farmers to take the time to read the booklet and to adopt a way of working that methodically considers safety requirements before starting any task.

Livestock is also a particular focus of farm safety initiatives. In 2019, six of the deaths on farms involved animals and five related to people over 65. All of the deaths involved cattle.

The most common animal involved in causing these injuries were bullocks (2), followed by a cow with a calf (1), a heifer (1) and in two cases the animal involved was unknown as the victim was found near cattle after the fatality.

HSA senior inspector Pat Griffin has advised farmers to take extra safety precautions as they enter the busy farming season.

However, there are also other worries as Caroline Farrell, IFA Farm Family and Social Affairs chair, outlined at the start of the Covid-19 crisis and the introduction of necessary restrictions. Her words are still relevant.

She recommended that if people feel overwhelmed, they should limit their time on social media or listening to the news, and instead go for a walk or step outside and take a breath.

“Talking through your worries with someone can help lessen the worry or anxiety. We are all in this together so make the most of your local IFA network to stay in touch and support other farm families in your community,” she said.

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