Minister Pat Breen tells national conference, ‘industry-led drives are key to improving farm safety’
Farm leaders meet to discuss how they can reduce accidents
Friday 26th October
The Health and Safety Authority and Teagasc, with FBD sponsorship and the support of the Farm Safety Partnership, hosted a ‘National Conference on Farm Safety and Health’ today at the Dolmen Hotel in Co Carlow.
The theme of the conference was ‘Safe Farming in Challenging Times’ with contributions from national and international experts on farm safety and health.
Farm leaders were also in attendance with Joe Healy, IFA President, Pat McCormack, ICMSA President and Denis Duggan, CEO of Macra Na Feirme each taking turns to chair the discussions throughout the day.
Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen TD made the opening address. The Minister called on farmers to drive behavioural change from within the industry:
“Agriculture is among the most hazardous occupations in Ireland with the sector consistently having the highest number of fatalities compared with other work activities. Regrettably, 17 people have lost their lives this year due to farm accidents. Remarkably this single sector accounts for almost 45% of all deaths that have occurred in all workplaces this year. While I see some evidence of an increase in awareness and engagement with farm safety, there is still clearly much work still to be done. To achieve a lasting and significant reduction in accident rates, a change in mind-set in relation to safety, health and welfare across all elements of the sector will need to occur. This happened in the construction sector in the 1990s and I hope that the same industry-led drive for safety is now taking root in the agriculture sector.”
Dr Sharon McGuinness, CEO of the HSA told the conference that while her organisation recognises the challenges farmers and farm families face, the number of elderly persons being killed on farms is deeply concerning:
“Farms are businesses and need to be managed efficiently. But farms are also family homes. People don’t just work there, families live there. Young children are reared and grow up there and tragically elderly farmers are all too often caught up in serious and fatal accidents. So far this year eight farmers aged 70 and over have been killed in accidents. This does not happen in any other industry. We ask farmers and farm families to put their safety and health first. Together with farmers and their families, we all must collaborate and work together to make farms safe and healthy places to work and live.”
Professor Gerry Boyle, Director of Teagasc spoke about the importance of peer-to-peer learning:
“I believe that it is possible to expand production in line with Food Wise 2025 while also achieving improved standards of safety and health. This will, however, require the strong engagement of all farmers in active safety and health management. Farmers need to continue to adapt farm infrastructure and technology to match the scale of operations or to facilitate off farm employment. Research and Knowledge Transfer has a vital role in assisting farmers with adapting both the physical farm infrastructure and behaviours for enhanced safety and health management.”
An international perspective on farm safety was provided by Professor Peter Lundqvist of the Department of Work Science in Sweden. Prof Lundqvist set out how following intensive work on farm safety in Sweden, when farmers were provided with one-to-one supervision on farm safety and health, they achieved a calendar year with zero fatalities.
Prof Lundqvist called for EU action to ensure such initiatives could be sustainable, calling for a dedicated European Farm Safety Organisation, EU funding for research, education and extension programs and investment in farm safety to attract bonus payments. He appealed to farmers not to see risk in farming as normal but to treat farm work more as a business that needs safety management.
UCD Professor, Jim Kinsella presented research on improving safety on dairy farms through Discussion Groups. Prof Kinsella noted that dairy farmers are already discussing farm safety and health in their discussion groups, however to a limited extent in most cases.
Discussion groups are long established and have proven successful in enabling farm practice changes. The research findings to date suggest that dairy discussion groups have potential to enable behaviour change in farm safety and health.