Summer is a busy time on farms across Ireland, but it’s also a dangerous and sometimes fatal season for adults and children, reports Ray Ryan, who looks at what is being done to improve safety
SUMMER can be a time of great joy in the countryside with children on school holidays, sunny weather lifting the spirits of young and old and farmers busy with silage and other work.
But it can also quickly turn into a time of tragedy, suffering and upheaval due to farm accidents involving machinery, livestock and other work place activities.
Each year, there are about 2,000 agriculture and forestry related accidents. There were 16 deaths in the sector alone in 2013 and in the first six months of this year there have been 13 fatalities.
Farming, therefore, continues to be the most dangerous occupation in Ireland, with an average of 20 fatalities per year.
A total of 27 children died following farm accidents in the decade up to 2010.
Tractors, machinery and drowning have been the main causes of the fatalities this year, resulting in renewed appeals for vigilance at all times.
Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Simon Coveney recently highlighted the potential dangers posed to children in particular at this busy time.
“A farmyard can seem like a playground to a child’s eyes. However, children can’t be expected to anticipate the dangers of playing there.
“Therefore, parents need to see these dangers and set ground rules for children on farms.
“For example, carrying children as passengers in large machinery is taking a serious risk because tractors and machinery have been responsible for half of all farming fatalities in Ireland over the past 10 years”.
But it is not just children that are at risk. Many adults continue to be the victim of horrendous farm accidents, which cause anguish, trauma and grief.
Minister Richard Bruton is shocked and very concerned at the number of deaths this year.
He has urged farmers and everyone involved in the industry to make safety part of the working day.
Health and Safety Authority chief executive Martin O’Halloran said he is gravely concerned at the numbers being killed and the causes.
But, he said, these are not just numbers. These are real people, real tragedies, real families destroyed.
“Every year it is the same. Tractors and machinery are the main cause of death on Irish farms,” he said.
Irish Farmers Association president Eddie Downey said the recent spate of fatalities reinforces how important it is to prioritise farm safety.
The sense of loss and grief felt by the families of loved ones fatally injured in farming related accidents is well documented.
But it has also emerged there is a need to provide greater supports to families by way of emotional, practical, business, legal and financial advice.
That need is now being highlighted by Embrace Farm (Farming Accidents – Remembered and Missed) founded by Brian and Norma Rohan in Shanahoe, Co Laois.
The group was founded following the death of Brian’s father, Liam Rohan, one of the finest competitive ploughmen to have come out of Laois.
Liam won many national titles, represented Ireland in the world contest four times and was coach-manager of the Irish team on four other occasions.
His death following an accident on the family farm in June 2012 was a devastating loss to his family and to the rural community he served.
Embrace Farm hopes to develop various support structures to help families in any way possible come to terms with the irreplaceable loss of their loved ones.
A number of deaths in 2014 have been associated with slurry gas on farms, an issue highlighted in last year’s Farm Safety message with the key line: “One Lungful of Slurry Gas Can Kill.”
On each of the past three years a Farm Safety message has been issued to over 130,000 farmers with their Single Payment application packs.
It was a joint initiative between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Health and Safety Authority and the Farm Safety Partnership Committee.
Ongoing campaigns by Teagasc, farming, industry and other groups are focused on raising safety awareness generally among people working in agriculture and forestry.
There are growing indications that the message is getting through to primary school children who submitted over 5,500 entries to Agri Aware, the agri-food educational body, for a Farm and Countryside Safety Welly Challenge last year.
The aim of the competition was to encourage primary level students to think about the dangers they might encounter when on a farm or in the countryside, and to help to improve their awareness of how to stay safe in these environments.
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