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Farm Safety Week has just passed and for all the progress we have made in terms of efficiencies in the industry this is one area that our record is a sorry one.

Twenty one people on average lose their lives on our farms every year. The number of farm fatalities tells a grim story but that’s even without speaking of the number of accidents and those who are left with disabilities and trauma from some terrible farm accident. Farmers work long hours, often alone with powerful machinery and large animals. All of these factors can create a multitude of occupational hazards. The profile of risks on farm are so diverse that it makes it very difficult to regulate farm safety effectively.

In full disclosure I’m very much of the mindset that too much regulation in industry is a bad thing and it prohibits creativity and progress. However when it comes to farm safety certain simple areas could be regulated to improve the lot of the farmer. One glaring example is the quad bike. These are common across the country. They are an acceptable mode of getting around the farm or to access places indeed where other machinery dare not venture due to terrain and conditions.

Unfortunately in this jurisdiction there is no requirement for a roll bar to prevent injury or death by being crushed should the quad over turn. The government should in fact mandate that any manufacturer of quad bikes provide a roll bar with every quad sold onto the Irish market. The quad bike is only one risk but it is illustrative of how simple regulation can save lives.

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With every operation we plan on farm we need to plan on doing it safely. How can you plan anything if you’re not rested or healthy? A recent collaborative study involving UCD and Teagasc found that 62% of male farmers are overweight. As one could infer and as the study showed was that farmers experience five times more cardiovascular and three times more cancer in the working age demographic than white collar workers in other sectors. To me this is evidence that ‘Farm Safety’ alone will not improve until we take a holistic approach by encompassing health into the conversation.

Stress is hugely detrimental to one’s health and is the cause of many health issues both physical and mental. Today’s farmer has to endure much bureaucracy and time spent doing non productive form filling. There is only so many hours in the day and perhaps in some cases the farmer is being pressed too hard. I would commend any legislator or civil servant that asks the question, “How will this regulation affect the farmer as a human being”.

I fear for our older farmers who are not as excited about our move to the online world, our government agencies need to allow for them and not heap more stress upon them while they are fulfilling their duties to cross compliance. Empathy and common sense can go a long way to improving farmer welfare

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