Ploughing Championships 2015: President warns of dangers posed by new farm technology

President Michael D Higgins and JP Clarke from Sligo.

New technology and modern farming practices bring new dangers, President Michael D Higgins has warned, highlighting the need to make farms safer.

Pointing out that farms are first and foremost places of work, he said increasingly sophisticated work methods can create a growing pressure to complete tasks quickly.

“This means that our farmyards have changed rapidly and now carry myriad risks. This, combined with the inherent unpredictability of agricultural work, calls for a greater than ever need for safety awareness on farms.”

Mr Higgins said 60% of workplace fatalities occur on farms, despite farm workers accounting for just 6% of the workforce. To date this year, 11 people have lost their lives on Irish farms.

“That this figure is four times greater than the second most dangerous occupational sector in the country — construction —is a salutary and sobering reminder of just how hazardous our farms can be.”

Ali and Eva Meally from Laois having a look at the vintage tractors on the first day of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Stradbally, Co Laois
Ali and Eva Meally from Laois having a look at the vintage tractors on the first day of the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Stradbally, Co Laois

Mr Higgins said it emphasised the importance of adequate training, precautions, and effective procedures being put in place to reduce the many hazards and dangers that present themselves on contemporary farmyards.

“We hear and read too regularly of tragic deaths that have occurred on farmyards around the country.

“It is, of course, important to acknowledge that ensuring safety on farms is a somewhat more complex task than that which faces most workplace managers.

“The vast majority of our farms are required to play a dual role; as a place of work, but also as a family home, a home which often must cater for several generations of the same family.

Róisín Flynn and Chantelle O’Dwyer from Tipperary having fun in the mud at the first day of the ploughing
Róisín Flynn and Chantelle O’Dwyer from Tipperary having fun in the mud at the first day of the ploughing

“Children and the elderly appear to be particularly vulnerable to farm accidents. Of the 30 tragic fatalities which occurred on Irish farms last year, nine were adults aged over 65, and five were children.

“Indeed farms are now the most dangerous workplaces in Ireland for children, in a country which has become increasingly health and safety aware.”

Officially opening the championships yesterday, Mr Higgins said building sustainable rural communi-ties must be a goal for the future.

He said a great deal has been written and spoken in recent years about sustainable development and about the mistakes made in planning and development in Ireland, and how “these mistakes contributed to the great difficulties that we have had, and we must have the courage to acknowledge that and draw wisdom from it”.

Ursula Kelly from Tuam with her coloured sheep at the Cormac Tagging stand yesterday
Ursula Kelly from Tuam with her coloured sheep at the Cormac Tagging stand yesterday

Mr Higgins said: “As we work to repair the damage that has been done, building sustainable rural communities must be accepted as a key goal for the future. It would not be possible to have sustainable communities in rural Ireland without a strong family farming sector.

“We should recognise, too, that agriculture and food production is central to the type of sustainable economic development that we are now invited to pursue as we address sustainability in a globally responsible way.

“We need to recognise that agricultural production and the agri-food sector are central pillars of Ireland’s real economy and have been central to our economic recovery.

Jane O’Meara, Mallow taking part in the pony games at the National Ploughing Championships
Jane O’Meara, Mallow taking part in the pony games at the National Ploughing Championships

“It is essential that agriculture remains at the centre of any new models of growth and development which we seek to put in place.”

Mr Higgins said these are times of great change in agriculture. The future sustainability of the sector demands that production be undertaken hand in hand with environmental responsibility. “Farmers, through their stewardship of the land serve a vital role in our society in producing healthy food while safeguarding our shared environment including our wildlife, our air, and our water,” he said.


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