Farmers reveal the safety challenge

At the recent AGM of the Irish Holstein Friesian Association in Portlaoise, farm safety was the topic addressed by guest speaker Arthur Byrne, Public Safety Manager for ESB Networks, second from left.

Many farmers cannot afford to farm safely, according to contributors to the recent Seanad Public Consultation Committee Debate on farm safety.

The impetus towards cheap food has cost farmers’ lives, said Westmeath County Councillor John Dolan in his submission to the Senate committee.

The Athlone dairy farmer said, “Unfortunately, many farms are not very profitable, so the amount of income and cash available to invest in different measures may not be great.”

“A farmer must be a vet, a mechanic, a labourer, an accountant, a negotiator, a personnel manager and a businessman or businesswoman.

“In most cases, the farm is run by one person who, at various times of the year, is working very long hours.

“This is the person who must also be a safety officer now.”

He recommended that every farmer should complete the half-day safety course provided by Teagasc, costing €25.

“This should be voluntary at first, but if things do not improve, it should be made compulsory and be part of our code of good farming practice.”

He said regional on-farm safety open days should show what the practical issues are on farms, and that discussion groups are the ideal medium for getting the farm safety message out.

He called for expansion of the farm safety scheme to include equipment such a slurry gas detector, a relatively cheap item.

“The person agitating the slurry wears it on his or her belt and it emits an alarm when gas is detected.

“Young tractor drivers should be made display an L-plate and complete a Teagasc farm safety course before they are given a licence at the age of 16.

“Often these young drivers, who have little experience of driving, work very long hours with silage outfits, perhaps travelling on a tractor with 10 tonnes to 12 tonnes of grass on a trailer behind it.”

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association President Patrick Kent told the Senate debate that a huge amount of the work on a farm by a solitary individual would not be permitted in an industrial setting or on a building site. “The nature of farming requires each farmer to be a jack of all trades.

“The relentless squeezing of farm incomes during the years means that there are fewer opportunities to hire outside help.

“As dealing with all breakdowns is urgent, farmers tend to undertake the job themselves.”

“Where a machine breaks down and the weather is due to break, there is immense pressure to get things fixed instantly.

“If a call out repair service is available, it is typically unavailable when a farmer wants to make hay.

He said every power take-off shaft should be replaced or covered; swinging doors should be replaced with sliding doors; the oldest tractors should be upgraded, and indoor agitation points should be replaced with outdoor points.

Electrical work might also need to upgraded.”

“It is easy in theory but not if one wishes to put bread on the table, and the bank refuses an extension to an overdraft.


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