Irish Farmers Association President, Joe Healy offers us the view from the Republic of Ireland and explains why initiatives like Farm Safety Week are critical for driving a real change in safety culture in Ireland’s farmers and how a fresh pair of eyes may be key to making this happen…
Managing health and safety on our farms is our own personal responsibility, and must be a constant in our daily farm plans and activities. Not just for our own safety, but that of our families, employees and visitors to our farms. Small changes to farm practices and facilities can make a huge difference.
The high number of fatal and serious accidents in the sector is a significant concern. In the last 10 years 220 farmers have lost their lives on Irish farms. The pain, human suffering and economic loss that accompanies these accidents is immense and I would like to extend my sympathy to all farm families and communities that have been affected.
While farmers’ attitudes to health and safety are generally very positive, a change in safety culture and behaviour is critical if we are to achieve a reduction in farm accidents. The main causes of serious accidents and fatalities on farms have not really changed over the last decade, with most caused by tractors and machinery, livestock, falls from heights and slurry hazards. The one notable exception is the increase in the number of serious accidents and fatalities involving quads or ATVs.
Understanding the risks on and around a farm operation makes it easier to avoid dangers, and makes accidents less likely. However, all too often farmers do not recognise the risks on their farms, which makes it difficult to manage the problem.
Sometimes all that is needed is a fresh pair of eyes to help identify risks and to enable change.
That is why this year the IFA will employ a Farm Safety Officer to implement a farmer-to-farmer peer learning initiative to advise farmers about potential risks and educate them to become safety ambassadors within their communities. The farmers who get involved in the initiative will help to mentor each other and facilitate farm visits to help others visualise how safety works in a real life situation.
It has long been established that farmers enthusiastically engage with knowledge transfer through demonstration activities. This kind of informal learning has been shown to be effective because the people involved have the potential to adapt the programme to meet their needs and develop their own approaches to improve safety on the farm. It also brings about a change in culture and make it socially unacceptable to be unsafe.
Safety needs to be practical and easy to carry out: farmers don’t have time for complex paper-based systems as the workplace is extremely dynamic. Safe practices need to be embedded in the minds of everyone involved in the farming if we are to make a lasting change in our behaviour.
While there is still much to be done in terms of improving the safety on our farms, it is encouraging to see the collective effort by all organisations involved in the Farm Safety Week campaign, with common purpose to improve health and safety for fellow farmers.