That’s Farming speaks to Enda Kennedy, assistant principal at Mountbellew Agricultural College, who provides farm safety tips and an insight into students’ attitude towards the topic.
Enda Kennedy became Mountbellew Agricultural College’s assistant principal in September 2019 after its stalwart, Vincent Flynn, retired.
He began lecturing at Mountbellew Agricultural College, Treanrevagh, Mountbellew, Co. Galway, in September 2015. One of his first tasks was to deliver farm safety modules to Green Cert and then to GMIT degree students.
Now, the assistant principal also lectures several modules in the GMIT agricultural engineering degree programme.
Enda feels tractors, quads, livestock, and machinery are the most prominent physical dangers on Irish farms. Although in his view, it is our attitude to farm safety that poses the most significant risk.
He also believes, given his background, education, and awareness can reduce farm accidents but also feels these alone does not seem to be working.
The farm safety lecturer appreciates it is essential to remind yourself to be safe each day before going out on the farm.
“I use the same mantra as the ESB ad, is it safe; also, a line that has stuck with me from watching the HSA survivor stories videos.”
“This particular video is of a Donegal tillage farmer called Sean Grant, who lost his left leg in a combine accident, and towards the end of the clip, Sean says: ‘slow down, set up the job, step back and make sure you are happy’,” Enda told That’s Farming.
“Okay, we might not get it finished today, but at least we will be here tomorrow to finish it. That sums up farming today, most jobs are done in a rush, and as a result, accidents are happening.”
Farm safety tips
Kennedy acknowledged that tractors are the farm’s workhorses, so it is vital to ensure they are maintained and safe to operate.
“Simple checks include ensuring the handbrake and brakes are working; all guards are in place (U-guard, fan belt guard) and all hitching components (three-point linkage, tow hitch) are free from wear and safe.”
“I have seen a lot of video on social media of trailer drawbars coming in through back windows. Do not use the cab floor as a toolbox. Ensure your tractor/s are road legal. Ensure you or somebody operating the tractor understand all the controls.”
He recognised that farmers need to ensure all farm machinery is maintained and safe, again ensuring all guards are in place (PTO, O guard or any guards covering drives, belts, gears, chains).
“No wire braiding should be exposed on hydraulic hoses. Ensure implements are attached to the tractor properly, and this goes for your front loader or any implement attached to your front-end loader. Ensure machinery, including your trailer(s) is/are road legal.”
Another factor that Enda regarded as a key to safety when on-farm is the importance of good livestock handling facilities.
“This time of year, we are in the throes of the calving season. Having a calving gate so that a cow or heifer can be secured while handling calves is vital. Also, having sheep equipment to minimise manual handling and back-related injuries.”
Farm safety tips – Agitating/mixing slurry
Enda recommends following the acronym EVA when agitating/mixing slurry:
- Evacuate: remove all stock from the shed;
- Ventilate: open all doors and shutters before you;
“Try agitating on a breezy day; do not enter or allow anyone else to enter the shed for at least 30 minutes after starting. Never leave an agitation point open; do not allow children or pets onto the farmyard, while slurry agitation and spreading are in operation.”
Lastly, Enda encouraged farmers to use their Farm Risk Assessment Document and urges them to keep this updated. He is of the opinion that it is an effective way of highlighting dangers on-farm and how/when a farmer can address them.
Students’ attitude towards farm safety
Initially, Enda thought students would have no real interest in farm safety, and he would struggle to spark engagement.
However, he perceives their attitude as positive as they are open to learning about what is happening on Irish farms in relation to accidents and how they can be avoided.
“Sometimes, during class, a student or students can start telling their story about an accident they were involved in. When this happens, that is the best education of all.”
He acknowledged that changing attitudes towards farm safety is a difficult thing.
“I think it is more generational than educational; change is happening but at a very slow pace. When I was young, our parents did not see the danger of us sitting on top of a trailer load of square bales or trailer loads of turf; it was fun. Nowadays, that does not happen, and rightly so.”
Farm safety in Ireland
According to Enda, farm safety is taken seriously in Ireland. However, he does not think imposing more legislation on farmers is the answer.
He pointed out that the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 covers health and safety in all workplaces, including farms.
“All stakeholders, Teagasc, HSA, IFA, Embrace FARM, FRS, and Agrikids are putting a lot of emphasis on farm safety.”
“There are ad campaigns on radio and TV; there are workshops on farm safety and on completing your Farm Risk Assessment document. If somebody wants to inform/educate themselves on farm safety, the resources are there.”
“I feel farmers require more consultation than legislation in that someone could come onto their farm and advise them on how to comply with health and safety and not dictate and punish farmers.”
The assistant principal suspects more emphasis will be placed on farm safety in the future.
“According to the HSA, a large proportion of all fatal workplace accidents occur in agriculture, even though a small proportion of the workforce is employed in farming.”
“The level of farm accidents is not decreasing. Similar accidents occur each year. Research indicates that, in general, farmers attitudes to safety only change after a serious injury occurs.”
“Until the rate of accidents and fatalities on Irish farms reduces to a rate similar, or less than, that in other economic sectors, then farm safety should be kept to the forefront of peoples’ minds.”
“Most consumers/non-farmers will take for granted the risks that farmers face daily to get their produce on a supermarket shelf,” Enda concluded.