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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘When you put your boots on in the morning, you never know who will take them off that night’

“Just because there are risks, it does not mean that farms should be dangerous places to work.”

That is what the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine with Special Responsibility for Farm Safety, Martin Heydon, told the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food, and the Marine earlier this week.

The minister is “determined” to use his role to drive a cultural change on farms, “one that puts safety first”.

“I am determined to reduce the rate of serious and fatal incidents in the agricultural sector,” he explained.

“I am open to looking at all options that may assist in encouraging farmers, and all those living and working in agriculture, to work in a safe manner and to manage the risks that are present in agriculture.”

“Ultimately, we need farm safety to be the first thought every day,” he told attendees.

He said that the day-to-day responsibility for safety on farms falls to the Health and Safety Authority.

The DAFM is “fully supportive” of this work and assists with promoting safe farming practices.

Fatal incidents on farms

During his opening address, the minister pointed to statistics from the HSA, which he said, serve as a “stark reminder” of the dangers of farms.

He said that between 2016 and 2020, there were 100 fatal incidents on farms.

Of these:

  • 46 involved a farm vehicle;
  • 7 involved machinery;
  • 20 involved livestock.

“The age profile of those involved in farm incidents is also a serious concern. The old and the very young accounted for 65% of fatal incidents on farms.”

Of 54 workplace deaths in 2020, 20 were on farms, which he said is “disproportionate” to the share of the workforce (7.1% in 2019) employed in the sector.

“To date this year, there have been 7 fatal incidents on farms. Every death is one too many. Behind each of these numbers are a family, a farm, and a local community that has suffered an irreversible loss.”

Implore key message 

He said it is important that we continue to “drive” efforts to put farm health, safety, and well-being at “the centre of all we do”.

During the exchange, the minister said, “one message I always try to implore to farmers continuously is that when you put your boots on in the morning, you never know who will take them off that night”.

He advises farmers to be “acutely aware of the risks on your farm”. “When you identify hazards, address them; do not put these jobs on the long finger.”

“No family that ever suffers a loss or a serious injury to a loved one on a farm ever expected it to happen to them.”

The minister acknowledged that there are “a lot” of contributing pressures on farmers in “the normal exercise of farming activity,” leading to long hours.

“In certain instances, that is when mistakes happen, or things happen that were not intended for. Furthermore, we have to be mindful of these pressures and identify and then mitigate risks in those areas where possible.”

Farm safety measures

The minister pointed to a range of initiatives in farm safety, health, and well-being to “help drive” culture change.

These include:

  • A dedicated EIP call for farm safety projects in December 2020, with an initial closing date of January 29th, 2021;
  • Accelerated Capital Allowance scheme in October 2021 for farmers wishing to modify farm vehicles or farm equipment for an operator with a disability;
  • DAFM co-funded the On Feirm Ground programme;
  • TAMS: Over 50 dedicated farm safety investments;
  • An active member of the Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee (FSPAC);
  • TV and radio campaign on farm safety in 2020 and 2021 with HSA;
  • Rolling out farm safety training: Farmers in agri-environmental and farm safety training package in Budget. In the form of CPD training for farm advisors;
  • Farm safety leaflet with BPS packs;
  • €2m for farm safety in Budget 2022;
  • CAP: The minister is “working to ensure farm safety has a central role in that when it begins in 2023”. “I want to see farm safety at the heart of everything we do in CAP, wherever possible.”

“It is only through continuous attention to the risks that are present on farms that the rate of fatal and serious incidents will be reduced in a sustained manner.”

During the sitting, he declared that he “fully endorses the valuable work and support” that EMBRACE FARM provides to farm families.

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