THE recent flooding that swamped thousands of acres of farm land, destroyed property and brought misery and and distress to families countrywide touched the heart of the nation.
But, as so often in the past, the adversity brought out the best in the public and voluntary services, who tackled the threats posed by the downpours, which caused rivers to overflow, blocking public roads and confining people to their homes.
Less obvious, perhaps, but equally praiseworthy, was the role of people, including farmers, with tractors capable of travelling through floods, who visited standed neighbours in their homes, some of them in isolated rural locations.
That spirit of kindness and care is part of what rural Ireland in particular is all about and it is now being given a greater focus through the FBD Community Champion for Change awards.
These awards aim to recognise local people and groups who are making a real difference in the areas of community support and farm safety.
Perhaps, it is someone who helped save a life, prevented serious injury on a farm or a rural group making an exceptional contribution. The overall winner will receive €1,000 towards the community project of their choice and recognition will be given to all finalists. The closing date for nominations is January 31.
Community was the December theme. Francis Fannon, a farmer, and his neighbours in Kilteevan, Co Roscommon, are shining examples of this community spirit.
He lost his wife Mary to illness in the springtime, the height of calving and lambing season. With four children to care for, as well as all the work on the farm, things might have seemed insurmountable. But 20 of his neighbours set up a rota to help him get back on track. He didn’t have to think of a thing. His neighbours helped him out and kept him and his family safe and sound.
“I count myself very fortunate to have had such wonderful friendship and support. Kilteevan is the kind of community where people look after each other and help one another. My neighbours are fantastic people whose kindness I can never repay but to be able to thank them publicly will hopefully inspire others to nominate or thank someone in their community who has gone above and beyond to help,” he said.
The FBD Champions for Change movement was launched last February. It uses digital technology to create a nationwide community of interest, discussion and support on farm safety and wellbeing and to highlight the need for people to look out for one another.
Facebook and Twitter play a big part in the initiative, offering regular reminders, updates and tips. The campaign website and mobile apps have been optimised to engage with the 90% of younger farmers who are now using smartphones in their daily work.
Francis Fannon said: “No farmer goes out to be negligent but there’s a lot of pressure. We’re farming three times the land our fathers did and there’s still only one of us in many cases. When under stress you might be working away, but you mightn’t be fully concentrated on the job.
“That’s why initiatives such as FBD’s Champions for Change are important as it brings farmers together as a community, reminding us that we’re not alone and we can change and get things right,” he said.
Fatalities in agriculture increased by 87% in 2014, with 30 people (including five children) killed compared to 16 in 2013. The number of deaths in farm related accidents up to November this year was 16. More than 2,500 serious accidents occur on farms each year. FBD chief executive Fiona Muldoon said this is a time when people look back on the past year and be thankful for those who are special in their lives.
People might know someone who helped save a life or who prevented serious injury on a farm, by calling in at the right time.
Perhaps they are aware of people who have used their own experience of a farm accident to help make others safer.
“We want to give recognition to the people who are making a real difference on the ground, the ordinary people who go the extra mile for others,” she said.
ICOS, the co-ops national body, whose 130 members, represent a combined membership of 150,000 farmers and rural dwellers, is collaborating with FBD in the overall Champions for Change campaign.
In a submission to the Seanad last March, it said it was extremely concerned at the ongoing high level of farm accidents.
ICOS said it was also concerned that the dairy sector, in which co-ops are most active, should suffer disproportionately from accidents. Of the country’s 120,000 farms, only 17% are dairy farms.
Yet, those farms account for 57% of farm deaths. This is probably due to the intensive nature of yard-based operations on dairy farms, featuring the three high-risk areas of machinery, livestock, and slurry.
An analysis of the fatal accident statistics from 2014 indicates that the majority of the incidents seem to have been preventable, and were perhaps a result of farmers operating under pressure, “in a rush” and perhaps taking risks or shortcuts in order to get the job done.
No accident was pre-ordained. They were all preventable. A moment’s thought would have prevented all of the needless suffering.
Therefore, all stakeholders have a responsibility to ensure that farmers can take that moment to think, to take the appropriate steps to prevent such accidents. ICOS said it and its member co-ops are encouraging farmers to think more seriously about farm safety, and to make the changes to their own behaviour to allow them to manage risks.
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