EU Commissioner Phil Hogan
ICSA president Patrick Kent has described comments made by EU Agriculture Commissioner Hogan on farm safety as “a step in the wrong direction”
Commissioner Hogan had expressed the possibility of including farm safety in cross compliance inspections in an effort to reduce farm fatalities.
“Farm safety is a very important issue and while we have enormous sympathy for farming families who have suffered losses or injury, we need to address the issue in the wider context of overall health, safety and well-being. Imposing penalties does not advance the cause; it only adds another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy,” said Mr Kent.
The farm leader said that the reality was that farming was facing unique challenges in reducing fatalities such as:
n Thousands of farmers continue active farming into their seventies and eighties as they have no successor and older farmers are more vulnerable to livestock attacks and injuries from falls.
n The low income levels also result in only 40 per cent of farms being viable. Therefore many thousands of farmers are rushing through farm work outside of normal hours, often in the darkness and are exhausted at the same time.
n Part-time farming along with Ireland’s unique farming mix with some one million suckler cows means that livestock are highly unpredictable and even with the best facilities the stock can be difficult to manage and handle.
n Low incomes in farming enterprises means that many farmers are not able to afford to invest in up to date equipment.
“ICSA believes that we must continue to strive to reduce accidents but rather than put more pressure on the farmer the goal should be to reduce it,” he said.
Mr Kent also said that it must be remembered that, while fatal accidents made all the headlines, there were a far greater number of farm families who suffered greatly from the stress of inspections and penalties combined with low incomes.
Mental health issues, such as depression and in some extreme cases, suicide are actually causing more harm to greater numbers of people. Proposals to add to the pressure of inspections and increase penalties will worsen this,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Authority has released its figures for workplace accidents in 2016 and it shows that the number of deaths on farms remained high, with 21 reported in 2016, compared to 18 in 2015.
Addressing the continued high accident rate in the agriculture sector the HSA's chief executive, Martin O’Halloran said: “The vast majority of sectors experienced a reduction in fatalities last year. However, it is clear that there is a systemic problem with safety on our farms.”
Mr O'Halloran pointed out that for the last seven years the agriculture sector had recorded the highest number of fatalities.
“Safety must become an integral part of farming culture, rather than an afterthought. Our farm safety walks and knowledge transfer groups are designed to effect long-term behavioural change and it is only through this type of transformation that we will see a significant reduction in farm deaths,” he said.