West Cork pupil nets safety award for warning device to prevent farm deaths

Student, who grew up on a farm, impressed judges with his innovative product
West Cork pupil nets safety award for warning device to prevent farm deaths

Many farming accidents involve machinery.

FARM safety was highlighted at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition with an award-winning device designed by a student at Scoil Phobail Bhéara in West Cork.

The prototype, which aims to prevent accidental injuries and deaths from farm machinery, won the ABP farm safety award at the prestigious competition.

Cathal O’Sullivan, who was brought up on a farm and was aware of the dangers posed daily by machines, impressed the judges with his innovative project.

Statistics showing that machinery is a major cause of deaths and serious injuries on farms over recent years motivated him to tackle the issue.

Being entangled in PTOs (power take off shafts that transfer mechanical power between farm tractors and implements), crushed under a machine part or between vehicles, caught in mechanism, and struck by an object are the main causes of deaths with farm machinery.

Between 2010 and 2019, there were 214 fatal accidents on farms, 65 of them due to tractors and vehicles and 39 relating to machinery.

Cathal O’Sullivan from Beara Community School in Castletown-Bearhaven, Co Cork.
Cathal O’Sullivan from Beara Community School in Castletown-Bearhaven, Co Cork.

There were 19 fatal incidents on farms in 2020. Three of these were children under the age of 18, and nine were farmers aged 65 or more. This followed 25 fatalities in 2017, 15 in 2018 and 19 in 2019.

A large proportion of all fatal workplace accidents occur in agriculture, even though a small proportion of the workforce is employed in farming.

Cathal O'Sullivan explained in a video supporting his entry for the Young Scientist competition that more accidents are caused by people becoming too complacent and thinking a machine is not spinning when it is actually doing so.

“My project aims to prevent accidents and help people feel safe around machinery by alerting them when it is dangerous and safe,” he said, explaining that the device warns people when they are too close to spinning machinery parts.

The recognition given to farm safety by the judges at the exhibition, held virtually for the first time this year, was particularly timely as it put a renewed focus on the issue at the start of 2021.

ABP Food Group, one of Europe’s leading privately owned agribusiness companies and the largest beef processor in Britain and Ireland, sponsored the special farm safety award for the seventh successive year.

The award recognises projects that focus on improving safety on farms and educating young people about the dangers of accidents in a farming environment.

Martin Kane, managing director, said ABP was proud to again sponsor the award. Over the years, ground-breaking projects were successful in the category and the group was looking forward to another innovative project that will help improve farm safety.

Annie Graham, the group’s livestock strategy manager, which employs over 11,000 people and has 47 manufacturing plants in Ireland, Britain, Denmark, Poland, Austria, Holland, France, and Spain, said Cathal’s project embodies the spirit of the award in finding new solutions to make farms safer.

Minister of State Martin Heydon, who has special responsibility for farm safety, recently launched a €1m call for proposed farm health, safety, and wellbeing projects under the European Innovation Partnerships, with January 29 as the closing date for stage one submissions.

The EIP model is built on stakeholders in the sector coming together as a group and trialling new and innovative ideas and approaches.

“We are now asking interested parties to come together and develop their ideas as to how we can address issues of farm health, safety and wellbeing,” he said, describing the call for proposals as an exciting initiative, which will help to put in place innovative approaches in this vital area.

The level of safety incidents, many of them fatal, on farms across the country are unacceptably high.

Mr Heydon said he was working to ensure that safety is at the heart of everything done on farms and was determined to deliver lasting change that will drive down the current level of safety incidents.

A new accelerated capital allowance scheme, which he brought forward with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, will make essential farm safety investments more accessible to farmers, he said.

Mr Heydon predicted that 2021 will be an important year for farm safety with around 50,000 farmers set to receive vital safety training. The revised HSA farm safety partnership advisory committee and its new working groups are now in place.

“I plan to build on the momentum of recent months by working closely with farmers to deliver the needed initiatives that can make a real difference to safety on our farms,” he said.

Capital allowances for farm safety equipment have been accelerated.
Capital allowances for farm safety equipment have been accelerated.

IFA Farm Business chairperson Rose Mary McDonagh welcomed the inclusion in the Finance Act 2020 of the updated accelerated capital allowances for farm safety equipment.

The new scheme allows for 50% capital allowances per annum for two years for eligible equipment, which includes chemical storage cabinets and anti-backing gates, as well as adaptive equipment to assist farmers with disabilities.

Urging farmers to remain vigilant, IFA Farm Family and Social Affairs chairperson Caroline Farrell said the important scheme will support farmers to invest in new equipment so they can farm in a safer way. 

Too many families and communities have been devastated by a farm accident or death.

The Health and Safety Authority has repeatedly stressed that vehicle or machinery injuries on farms are preventable if the correct safety procedures are put in place and observed. There are a range of health and safety publications available on both the HSA and Teagasc web sites.

Pat Griffin, HSA senior inspector, said last year that many dreadful farm accidents have been in farm workshops associated with the maintenance and repair of farm machinery. He strongly urged farmers to consider safety requirements before commencing any task.

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