I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and for Defence, Deputy Simon Coveney.
Seanad Public Consultation Committee Report on Farm Safety: Motion
That Seanad Éireann notes the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee entitled, Report on Farm Safety, which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 26 May 2015.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, for this important debate.
This issue of farm safety is not about us versus the Minister. The way to go is via cohesive policies and creating awareness. Hopefully, the report the public consultation committee produced will shine a light and focus on the tragedies on farms. Not alone are farms places of work, but they are also homes. Unfortunately, in my county we have suffered a greater share of tragedies per capita than other parts of country in the past 12 or 18 months. It was regrettable that on the day we launched the report there was a two-year-old boy being buried in Schull and another person in Cavan. It was poignant.
It is a question of trying to create awareness. Farm safety is an issue of growing concern due to the increase in tragic deaths last year. This is particularly important as the summer period is now in full swing and more children will be spending time on the farm when schools are closed, etc. The Government must continue to support information and best practice health and safety campaigns and look to tackle the most vulnerable groups, such as the young and the elderly.
It is tragic that there were 30 fatalities in the agricultural sector in 2014 representing over half of all work-related deaths, while farm fatalities increased by a massive 87% in 2014. Despite the number of farm deaths in 2014 being the highest in over 20 years, it is troubling to hear from the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, that it is cutting the number of farm inspections again this year. Funding for inspections has been cut significantly in the past three years, with a 55% reduction in funding in 2014 compared with 2012.
I have to be careful here also. With farm inspections, we need a balanced carrot-and-stick approach. There is the issue of coming in heavy on farmers. Farmers, as Senators will be aware, operate in an over regulated sector already and the HSA must be sensitive to this. An approach by way of education and farm walks, and a little more carrot than stick, might be the way to go. I read today in the Irish Examiner that there were 300 fewer farm inspections but I understand that there is a reduction in farm fatalities this year, and, hopefully, that will continue.
Also troubling in the report is that we learned that children and those over 65 are the most vulnerable. The statistics bear out this sad and tragic finding. We looked at the Health and Safety Authority farm statistics which show that farmers, who account for 6% of the workforce, recorded almost 60% of workplace fatalities in 2014. It was the worst year on record.
The Health and Safety Authority is doing a good job. It is probably not a pleasant job. In 2014, there were over 2,000 inspections, which is a significant amount. I also compliment all the major farming organisations, such as the IFA and the ICSA, which are doing tremendous work within their organisations in keeping a focus on farm safety and I noted recently, both on radio and television, the continual advertisements to be careful working on the farm when children are around.
It is also important that I welcome some of those who contributed to the public consultation some months ago.
Representatives from Embrace FARM are present. I was glad to attend an ecumenical service on a Sunday afternoon in Abbeyleix about four weeks ago, which was very poignant. The Minister was present. It is important that public representatives stand in solidarity with the groups who are trying to show respect for those unfortunate people who have lost loved ones in farm accidents. A member of Teagasc is in the Visitors Gallery, as well as Mr. Patrick Duffy, the young man from Monaghan who developed an interesting board game to teach young people about farm safety, along the lines of Snakes and Ladders. If one does the correct things on a farm, one moves up the ladder, and if one makes mistakes, one will slide down the snake, so to speak. Also in the Visitors Gallery is Mr. Vincent Nally, from Irish Rural Link, and representatives of Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland, Mr. Tom Murphy and Ms Brigid Cunniffe. I will not drag out the debate. The important point is that we need this debate on the whole area of farm safety to maintain the focus on this terrible tragedy. Statistics show that a total of 26 people were killed by farm animals - cattle, horses or bulls - in the period 2005 to 2014. I am the son of a farmer and grew up on a farm. However, one has to be extremely careful with animals at all stages. Even cows, which sometimes look docile, if they have just calved or have a young suckler calf with them, can get agitated and may react and become dangerous.
The number of deaths due to accidents involving tractors and farm vehicles in the period 2005 to 2014 was 57. Almost 75% of those 57 people were killed by being crushed. In that regard, it is important to take extra care with farm machinery. The number of deaths of farmers aged over 60 years in that period was 70. It is sad that children die on farms, and in that period 22 children were killed.
I pay tribute to the rapporteur, Senator Martin Conway, and the Leader, who set up the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. Sometimes we are criticised for not doing enough, but this is an area on which the committee has focused. We invited interested parties to come on board. If there is one thing we have achieved, I hope it is that we have maintained the focus for this year and the coming years on safety on our farms, which are also our homes, and vigilance with small children. We can never eliminate human error, but if we can save one life in 2015 or 2016 as a result of this report, or significantly reduce severe injuries - some people have lost limbs in farm accidents - it will have been worthwhile.
Many people will not have heard of a furze machine. We used to feed furze to horses in the winter. I almost got my hand chopped off using one. People on farms must be extremely careful.
I am pleased the Minister is present to take the debate. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. This is not a political issue; it is above politics. The Minister is doing an extremely good job in the area of farm safety. The Government agencies are working hard on it and we are all in unison in trying to save even one life this year, and maybe two next year, and trying to reduce the number of appalling injuries. Any small advance we can make is worthwhile.
I was elected on the Agricultural Panel. We are cognisant of what our farm families and communities are going through. It is a terrible burden on somebody when a neighbour, a friend or a child is killed. It leaves a mark on that community for many years. I recommend the report to the House and look forward to a full debate.
It is a great privilege for me to second the motion. We often hear that reports, particularly committee reports, sit on shelves and gather dust. Even if this report was to sit on a shelf and gather dust, I still think it has been a worthwhile exercise, simply because it got a great deal of publicity in the newspapers and on radio, and Senator Denis O'Donovan and I have done quite an amount to keep a focus on the report. That in itself builds awareness. If one person, maybe a mother, is listening to this debate and if something registers in her head and she implements a change in terms of improving best practice, and if that change ultimately saves a life, then this report has been worth it. I recall speaking to Mr. Eugene Hogan, who said that if this report did nothing except get publicity and media outlets covering farm safety, it would have achieved a lot.
I stood up in the House, probably around this time last year, and proposed that the Seanad Public Consultation Committee carry out a report on farm safety. I did that because I had heard Mr. Eugene Hogan being interviewed about his brother, the manager of the under-21 Offaly team, who died as a result of a farm accident. I was so moved by his interview that I was prompted to propose the report. It has been an incredible exercise. It has demonstrated how the Seanad can be relevant to the lives of ordinary people in this country. Some significant recommendations have been made which are worthy of consideration. To be fair to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, he has taken a personal interest in farm safety. He has already taken a number of initiatives in the whole area of farm safety. He speaks regularly on the issue of farm safety. I have no doubt he will find ways within the Estimates that he is preparing for budget 2016 to implement some of the recommendations.
We have proposed a scrappage scheme for outdated machinery, which would provide a financial incentive for farmers to upgrade and acquire safer machinery. That is an issue the Minister could consider incorporating into the Estimates for the budget. In terms of awareness, I commend all the people who made submissions, some of whom are here today, to the committee and those who came to this Chamber in March and made oral submissions. One very powerful submission came from Senator Denis O'Donovan's area in west Cork. A GAA club outlined in great detail what it had done in the whole area of farm safety. It organised awareness days and engaged with the senior county footballers and hurlers to assist on the day. Leading on from that, the committee made a clear recommendation that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine fund a farm safety officer, to be based at GAA headquarters in Croke Park, whose remit would be to roll out on an incremental basis similar programmes to that which took place in west Cork throughout the whole GAA organisation. The structure is in place. The GAA has demonstrated its capability in doing this in other areas such as inclusivity, Traveller understanding, tolerance and so forth. I think the GAA would warmly support a role for itself within farm safety. While it would cost probably €30,000 or €40,000, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should consider, even on a pilot basis for, say, three years, funding a farm safety officer to be based in Croke Park.
Ultimately, lives will be saved if people are careful. We can have all the reports and all the recommendations we want but, ultimately, there must be a greater awareness among farm families of their own responsibilities, particularly when it comes to children around machinery and so forth.
That safety message is percolating down to the farm. Farmers are now much more safety conscious than they were in the past. Unfortunately, 30 people lost their lives in 2015 but, thankfully, that figure seems to be reducing this year. One death is one death too many. Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that farms, which are homes as well as workplaces, are safe.
Approximately 400,000 people either live or work on farms. If 30 people lost their lives in any other industry there would be a national outcry. That is what we need. We need a similar approach to that being taken in terms of road safety. I know the Minister is committed to that. I would like to hear him give a commitment that he will incorporate some of the recommendations in this report, and that this report will not gather dust. We have achieved a good deal already, but there is so much more we can achieve. I look forward to the Minister giving those commitments and I know that if he does give a commitment, he will follow through on it. Let us hope he does.
I understand the Senator and Senator Denis O'Donovan contributed to the report.
Before I call the next speaker, I welcome Councillor Eugene Murphy from Strokestown and members of the Strokestown social services who are in the Visitors Gallery. They are very welcome to Leinster House and I am delighted that they have the opportunity to visit and see the work done by the Oireachtas. They have contributed to the Oireachtas during the years by their work in Strokestown and surrounding areas. Councillor Murphy leads the delegation. Mr. Patrick Duffy who wrote a report this year is also in the Visitors Gallery, with Ms Elaine Farrell from the IFA. I also welcome the other guests. They are very welcome to listen to this debate. The Minister can come in whenever he wants, but I presume he wants to hear a few more contributions first.
I welcome this clear, factual and comprehensive report. It shows the value of Seanad Éireann and also of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee.
I compliment Senator Denis O'Donovan on this initiative and also Senator Martin Conway who I believe was also very much behind this proposal. They took evidence, reviewed statistics and examined the question of farm safety.
I was very surprised some years ago to learn that that year farm accidents were the highest cause of industrial morbidity. I thought it would be the building industry, but it was farming. That shows the clear significance of this report and its timeliness.
We hear regularly on the wireless of tragedies in farming. I remember a case a year or two ago in Ulster where two or three members of a family - wonderful, vital young men - were killed in the same accident in a slurry pit. These tragedies are avoidable, and I believe that this report will make a significant contribution towards ensuring safety on the farm.
I am very glad that this report has achieved so much publicity because if a report like this one, admirable though it is, is left lying on the shelf it is of no use whatever. We need to alert people, not people in the newsrooms or people like myself sitting in a house in the middle of the city listening at breakfast to a news report. We need to alert the people on the farms who need to take action to increase their knowledge and awareness of farm safety.
One of the most tragic aspects of this is the danger to children, whether it is children improperly driving tractors, getting tangled up in complicated machinery or falling into slurry pits.
A number of the practical suggestions in this report have been referred to but I would like to mention, and it is extremely useful and not terribly expensive, and there might be grants for it, the fitting of a gas meter to slurries in order that people would be alerted to the presence of poisonous gas. These gases do not have a strong smell or if they do, it is mixed up with other farmyard smells. A clearly visible meter on the slurry tank, which would alert people to the dangers of noxious gases, would be an extremely good measure.
I welcome very much the scrappage measure. Machinery is expensive. Out of date, badly serviced machinery is dangerous and if it can be taken out of the equation, so much the better.
I am not a member of the GAA - I have been to Croke Park four times - but the GAA is a powerful national organisation.
That is more times than Laois were there.
I beg the Senator's pardon. There were many times when Laois were there and they did extremely well, except for the foul-mouthed response of two Laois people sitting behind me on one occasion. I was absolutely horrified. There was a Northern family sitting in front of me and I thought, "Oh my God"; I told them that I was from Laois also but that I was not like the two behind me. To be serious, I very much welcome the involvement of the GAA. That will be an extremely valuable message and anything that makes our farms safer is welcome. Let the message go out from Seanad Éireann and let it not be contained.
It is welcome that there has been a fair amount of publicity on this issue. It is not the sexiest of issues but it is a vitally important one, particularly for people who live and work in the countryside, and their families. I believe I am correct in stating that there are very few women involved in this, although women play an active part nowadays in farming. Maybe they are more prudent and more careful than the men but whatever the situation, I very much welcome this report. I congratulate its authors and look forward to the Minister implementing as many of the suggestions contained in the report as possible.
I join Senator Denis O'Donovan in welcoming the people who participated in this including the Professional Agriculture Contractors of Ireland representatives, Mr. Tom Murphy and Ms Brigid Cunniffe; Mr. Brian Rohan and Mrs. Norma Rohan of Embrace FARM; Dr. John G. McNamara from Teagasc - I mentioned Mr. Patrick Duffy - and Mr. Vincent Nally from Irish Rural Link. They are all very welcome.
May I make another brief point?
It is personal. I was speaking to Senator Denis O'Donovan and he told me that his son, who is a member of the fire brigade, had on three occasions been involved in the clearing out of slurry pits to find bodies. That is stark. It says it all and I compliment the Senator and his son on their action in this regard. What a pity that the fire brigade has to be called in to dredge out a slurry tank when such tragedies are so avoidable, and will be more avoidable in future if these gas meters are installed.
I welcome the Minister. It is like the house of a thousand welcomes because I would like to welcome the people in the Visitors Gallery also, particularly my good friend, Mr. John McNamara, who is literally from the next parish from me, albeit in County Kilkenny, across the border from Tipperary. I welcome all the visitors.
Sometimes people ask what Senators and the Seanad do. This is a good example of what the Seanad does. I commend and congratulate Senator Denis O'Donovan and all the members of the group who worked on the report. I am a member of the agriculture committee, but I had no direct involvement with it. I commend also all of those who made submissions and contributed in other ways. The farm is a lonely place for many people. In many cases farmers work on his own. They may work with a young son or daughter but, in the main, they work on their own. They work long hours, in difficult conditions, and, through no fault of their own, they work with machinery that may not always be up to scratch. Accidents happen in seconds. Nobody sets out to work in the morning to have an accident but the statistics are frightening. Six per cent of the working population are farmers or work in the farm area, yet between 35% and 45% of workplace fatalities happen inside the farm gate.
We have to do something about this. We cannot allow a situation to continue where in 2014, some 30 of the 55 workplace accidents happened on farms. That was the premise on which the committee, headed by Senator Denis O'Donovan, started out. It is fair to say that the recommendations from the committee are reasonable, straightforward and do not require a great deal of money, but they require goodwill and momentum from the Minister to ensure they are implemented.
My father was a horse breeder. He was within seconds of almost losing his life from a kick from a horse while saddling it in a stable. The mare was old and had never done anything "quare", to use that word, in her life. She flicked around and hit him on the chest. Luckily, he survived it. Many others were not so lucky. These are the people we have to try to help.
The recommendations from the committee have been outlined by some of the speakers already but I will touch on one or two of them. The first recommendation is on education. In the broadest sense, that means health and safety courses, education in schools for children of farmers, education through third level, peer learning and priorities of farm safety at primary and second level. As soon as children can walk, they are out helping on the farm. There is no point in telling them about safety issues when they reach 19 and 20 years of age and have developed bad habits. When they get up on a tractor, they should carry out the safety checks. Also, they should ensure that whatever machinery they are working with is checked before using it. In the main, young men love tractors and love getting up on them and driving down the road even though they can only drive at 35 mph but think they are driving at 90 mph. That is the nature of young people and that is what they want to do. The main point is that they carry out the safety checks - that is where education comes in.
Senator David Norris has alluded to building awareness, as has Senator Martin Conway, through the GAA. I am a great lover of the GAA but I recognise that there are other organisations that can do this. It does not have to be prescriptive and does not have to be the GAA. Irrespective of what way it is done, a small amount of money can ensure that this recommendation, 3.2.1 in the list, can succeed. The scrappage scheme is important, as is the use of Internet technology for training and the whole issue of slurry gas detection devices, on which I hope the Minister will comment.
We also have to look at tractor safety and farm safety visits from the Health and Safety Authority. Nobody likes to encounter these but this is what prevents deaths. People are aware that visits can and do take place. In 90% of cases where farm safety inspections are carried out, instructions are issued. In 10% of cases, prosecutions are carried forward. While there is a great deal of work to be done, this is a good start. It is all about making sure that people who go out to work on farms at 8 a.m. and in some cases at 6 a.m., depending on the time of year, until perhaps 10 p.m. are safe. They must learn to bring into their work practices safety from the moment they open the back door to go out in the morning until they come in at night. If that could be achieved, it would cut down on the number of fatalities and the serious injuries which we have not spoken about. I know people in my area who have lost limbs through farm accidents and whose lives have been ruined for ever more.
There is a job of work to be done. I look forward to the Minister's response. I know from his background and his work as a Minister that he is extremely interested in this area. This is not about money per se. It is about getting better practices in place that will ensure that people are safe in their workplace, which is the farm.
I welcome the Minister. More important, I commend my colleague, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Denis O'Donovan, and his team of colleagues who compiled the report. They spent many hours engaged in public consultation and in assessing all the submissions made and considering this important issue of farm safety. Some 30 people lost their lives on farms in 2014 which, as Senator Denis Landy said, was 60% or 65% of the total number of workplace fatalities that year.
I listened to Senator David Norris earlier who said he was shocked to hear that the farm was the most dangerous place in which to work. We would all be shocked, thinking it would be some other area, such as building sites or hard core manufacturing factories and such places. Unfortunately, it is on our farms. The dynamic of the farm is different from any other workplace. Ireland has a tradition of the family farm unit. It is where young children or young adults help out older generations to run family farms and because of the mix of age profiles involved in cutting down costs, it is inevitable that they will face challenges. They are working with dangerous animals such as bulls, which was identified in the report, but most of the accidents appear to be attributed, particularly those in 2014, to tractor fatalities. Out of the 30, approximately 60% or 65% were tractor based accidents.
Machinery on farms is dangerous but it is an essential element of any working farm. The report makes a number of recommendations on upgrading machinery, providing a scrappage grant and the PTO shaft, which those of us who grew up on a farm know is particularly dangerous. More than 30 years ago in the parish where I live, a bailer accident occurred where an unfortunate man who was operating as a small contractor was bailed through one of the small bailers. The result was catastrophic. It destroyed the family emotionally, physically and mentally, and it did the same to the local community. It was a shocking incident but such incidents occur.
There are safety procedures that can be put in place but, unfortunately, they cost money, and many farms do not have the money to invest in newer technologies and machinery, better PTO shafts and better tractors. Some of the accidents, and I am sure the committee examined this, are the result of a lack of available resources to invest in newer technologies. The Minister might outline the initiatives the Department can take to try to support on-farm investment in terms of upgrading machinery and so forth, which has been identified in the report.
Regarding some of the recommendations in the report, Senator Denis O'Donovan mentioned the slight cut in the Health and Safety Authority's budget and the reduced number of HSA inspector visits in 2015. Are there other initiatives in which the Department can be engaged to circumvent the lack of inspections? Does the Minister believe that would have a detrimental impact?
I agree with Senator Dennis Landy that this is not all about money. It is about education. I note in the report that awareness building is a key aspect, and there is reference to bringing the GAA on board. There might also be a need to look at the primary school curriculum, given the dynamic in the family farm where there are many young people working on the farm. I grew up on a farm and I remember driving a tractor but I could hardly see over the steering wheel. That may not have been the right thing to do, but it happens on every farm. It may be possible to do something in local rural schools.
New technologies, a scrappage scheme and education are initiatives identified in the report. We would all like to see the implementation of at least some of the recommendations, acknowledging the work of all the farm organisations and the people who made submissions, and acknowledging the work of the committee. I hope the Minister will take a proactive role in trying to work with his officials to implement some of the report's recommendations. I presume my time is up.
Yes, the Senator's time is actually up.
May I mention the essential secretarial and support work given by Mr. Martin Groves to the committee? I would also like to mention Senator Conway who acted as rapporteur to the committee. I congratulate the committee on the report, which is an excellent piece of work. Reports like this are often forgotten unless they are taken by the scruff of the neck by a Minister. As the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, is very proactive, I am sure he will implement at least some of the recommendations.
I pay tribute to my colleagues, Senators Denis O'Donovan and Martin Conway, for the work they have done on this report. I welcome the Minister and thank him for taking the time to discuss this report. It is vitally important that great care is practised on farms. Farm safety is not an issue that should be taken lightly. I would like to extend my sympathies to the family of a lady in County Meath who passed away last week following an attack from a freshly calved cow. Her death marks the fifth farm fatality in 2015. Over 30 people lost their lives on Irish farms last year. As has already been mentioned, the agriculture sector accounts for 6% of total employment but 60% of all work-related fatalities. This incredible statistic shows exactly why a shift in farm safety must be implemented. These figures are unbelievably high. We need to do everything in our power to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by farm accidents.
I welcome the recommendations in the report, which can vastly improve the safety levels practised on farms. When it was compiling its farm safety report, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee met many stakeholders in the agriculture industry. This reports contains a number of recommendations made by the organisations that contributed to the committee's work and made submissions to it. The report recommends an increase in ongoing education and peer-generated learning for members of the farming community. In practical terms, this involves using discussion groups and getting farmers to educate groups of farmers. That is very important. Most of us are aware that groups of farmers meet on farms. It is vital that farm safety is discussed on such occasions. It has already been mentioned that the report recommends that an awareness-building campaign be conducted in conjunction with the GAA and community champions as part of a nationwide awareness initiative. This could potentially take the form of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine liaising with a GAA-appointed national farm safety officer. Perhaps assistance could be provided to bereaved families when they are dealing with administration and legal difficulties following a farm fatality. It is extremely important that we work to ensure the report's recommendations are implemented. This should not be another example of a report allowed to sit on a shelf.
As Senators, we have a duty to help our friends, neighbours and fellow citizens. As someone who comes from a farming background, I know too well the dangers we face on farms. It is imperative that we provide farmers with knowledge and information on farm safety. I particularly commend the green cert course that is provided by Teagasc to all farmers. This course has been developed to meet the training requirements of full-time and part-time farmers who hold non-agriculture major award qualifications at level 6 or higher. The course contains modules on farm safety and best practice. It is essential that resources and places are available for any farmer who wishes to take this course. I know that in my own part of the country, young farmers find it difficult to attain places on green cert courses. This is a matter that needs to be resolved. We need to put farm safety discussion and consultation groups in place. This method has proved fruitful in other areas of farming. I believe it would help in the area of farm safety too. It is important that we learn from one another and work together to make the farm a safer environment for everyone. I thank the Minister again for taking the time to be here with us today. I look forward to hearing his comments and views on the report and on the points I have made.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus na haíonna speisialta atá anseo sa Ghailearaí. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis na grúpaí ar fad a chur eolas chun cinn, go háirithe na Seanadóirí Ó Donnabháin agus Ó Conbhuí, a rinne an-obair ar fad ar an tuairisc seo.
I welcome this important and timely report. Its importance lies in the fact that for people living in and working on farms, the issue of farm safety can mean the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, this is especially the case when it comes to young people and children. As the report highlights, far too many adults and children are continuing to lose their lives on Irish farms. The report is timely because this is the fifth consecutive year in which the farm has been categorised as the most dangerous place in which to work. In 2014, over 50% of fatal accidents in the workplace occurred on farms, even though the agricultural workforce accounts for just 5% of the overall labour force. Figures from the Health and Safety Authority show that fatalities in agriculture accounted for 30 deaths in 2014. This figure is particularly worrying given that there were just 16 fatalities in the previous year. In other words, we had an increase of 87% in 2014. It is also important to note that the rate of fatal farm accidents per 100,000 farmers in Ireland is 60% higher than in the United Kingdom and twice that of some EU countries. I welcome the report and its recommendations, especially those relating to education. There is a need to change behaviours and attitudes, build awareness, introduce a scrappage scheme and maximise the potential of new technologies.
I would like to inform Senators that the report we are discussing is not without its constructive critics, including the pupils of a national school near Tuam who have contacted me. They inform me that the school in question, Cloghan's Hill national school, is in County Mayo. I have visited this fantastic small one-teacher school and met its pupils who have read the report in full. They wanted to make a number of suggestions. They think the report is good but would like to make some points on the education of children strategy that is recommended in it. They would really like to have some more input and to share their ideas with the Minister. Perhaps he might be able to hear from them at some stage. I think they will be in the farm safety tent at the ploughing championships. I am sure they would love to meet the Minister. They point out that adults have produced all the schoolbooks and school plans in the area of farm safety education to date and they suggest that much more needs to be done. They think they can help planners and writers to relay these matters to children in a way that will make children more inclined to engage with them.
The students of Cloghan's Hill national school have argued that the parts of the report recommending that education be especially targeted at rural schools are worrying because we cannot be sure whether anyone might visit a farm on holidays in the future. They remind us that when we are teaching children, we are tools for moulding the minds of future adults. They ask who knows whether they will become a farmer or marry a farmer and therefore end up living on a farm. They think it is important for those reasons for farm safety to be taught in urban and rural areas. They have pointed out that farm safety can be a scary area for kids. They suggest that a clear divide between places of work and places of play needs to be defined clearly. They have established a website, farmsafety4kids.net, on which they have been conducting surveys on farm safety and chemical safety. They have been shocked by some of the results of the surveys they have conducted among children. They would like to get a chance to discuss those findings with us. I think they really have to be commended on the work done in Cloghan's Hill national school.
Obviously, the figures that have been mentioned are quite alarming. I would like to note that my colleague, Michelle O'Neill, who is the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in the North, has taken a number of initiatives. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has a very good working relationship with Michelle O'Neill, who has made farm safety a cross-cutting element of her Department's work. The Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development works as a member of the farm safety partnership, which was formed in 2012. The other partners on that organisation include representatives of the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland, the Ulster Farmers Union, the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster, the National Farmers Union Mutual and the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association. In 2014, the organisation launched the second action plan of the farm safety partnership, which reflects and seeks to build on the progress made under the earlier plan. The aim of the new plan is to influence future behaviour in order that farmers, their families and their employees are capable, motivated and able to work safely to reduce accidents on farms.
This year the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has continued its support of the farm safety partnership. All the indications are that the partnership's hard-hitting multimedia campaign is being very successful in raising awareness among the farming community of the dangers on our farms. As part of the 2014-20 rural development programme, the Northern Ireland Minister is developing programmes under the knowledge transfer measure. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, is going to outline for us that he has his own ideas in this regard. Knowledge transfer will incorporate business development groups that will focus on farm safety as one of their discussion topics. Through the farm family kills component of this measure, Michelle O'Neill and her colleagues are developing programmes that will focus on farm health and safety. They intend to continue to maintain the Farm SafeNet online training package, which allows farmers to go online and complete farm safety-related training.
Since July 2015, more than 950 farmers in the North have completed the FarmSafeNet package. Officials in that Department are also working with colleagues in the Health and Safety Executive to develop the Make it Safer tool, which allows farmers to assess the dangers on their individual farms and record actions to make their farms safer. They are hoping to launch that later this year. They have also engaged with colleagues from the Farm Safety Partnership via the slurry working group, which was set up to specifically examine the dangers associated with slurry handling. Its work is ongoing. I outline that merely to say that we should, as we often do, take an all-island approach to some of the issues involved. We may not have to reinvent the wheel with respect to all the issues involved. I am sure that a transfer of knowledge, a sharing of experiences and a sharing of the expertise in this area in the Minister's Department would be useful.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an dream a chuir an tuairisc fíorthábhachtach seo le chéile. Tá go leor moltaí an-mhaith ann. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an tAire in ann cuid mhaith dóibh a thógáil ar bord agus iad a chur i bhfeidhm.
I support the excellent work being done as a result of the publication of this report. I welcome the Minister and thank him for taking the time to listen to contributions from the various Members to the debate on the motion. I compliment Senator Denis O'Donovan, the Chairman of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. I also compliment the rapporteur, Senator Martin Conway, who was probably the first to raise the issue of farm safety in the House as a result of an unfortunate death in County Offaly.
As we discuss this issue, our thoughts are with the families of all those who have lost loved ones throughout the country in recent years as a result of farm accidents. As previous speakers said, the farm has turned out to be one of the most dangerous places in which to work and make a living. It is timely that we are having this debate on how to better educate people and raise awareness of the issue of farm safety. Unfortunately, we all know somebody who has been seriously injured or lost their life as a result of a farm accident. I have a friend, a farm contractor, who lost his leg 30 years ago as a result of an accident with a power take-off shaft, PTO. I always marvelled at how he coped. He was on his own and a long distance from the nearest house. It was only down to his physical strength that he was able to drag himself along the ground to a house, where somebody raised the alarm, and he was brought to hospital. Thankfully, he is still hale and hearty and has had a successful contracting business in east Galway down through those years. I always think of him when we discuss these issues.
The strength of this report is in the very strong recommendations it makes. I know of the Minister's keen interest in this area. He has devoted considerable time recently to publicising the need for safety on farms. Education is an important factor, and we need to talk to youngsters in primary and second schools about the importance of safety everywhere, particularly safety on the roads, safety on farms and safety at work. Education in those areas needs to be prioritised.
I am deeply concerned about the number of young people I see in charge of very large machinery, whether it is on farms around the country or on the public roads. Given the power of the machinery, it is different from the days when one would see an old Ferguson 20 on the road pulling small loads, bringing a small load of turf from the bog or carrying cocks of hay. We now have very powerful machines, and the young people who are in charge of them do not have the necessary experience and knowledge. Farmers need to take account of that and contractors need to be very wary of that also. The potential for serious injury or tragedy is very real.
In terms of raising awareness of the issue, there is a very fine recommendation in the report suggesting that well known personalities, leading GAA figures and well known people in our community should be used to front these campaigns, and that is happening to some extent. The more we can associate well known figures with any particular campaign but particularly in this area of safety which is critical for all of us the more we should do so.
I sat in on many of the consultations we had in the Seanad on this issue and pay tribute to all the organisations and individuals who made very fine contributions.
Another issue is the possibility of a scrappage scheme. We all remember a time, years ago, when there were a lot of clapped-out old cars and bad vehicles on the roads, which constituted a major safety hazard. As our economic fortunes improve over the next number of years, the Minister might consider some mechanism for taking some of the poor equipment and machinery that exists out of circulation. There are great opportunities for entrepreneurs to devise new technologies in the area of gas detection and ways of engineering out of the system some of the problems that are causing accidents. As well as trying to raise awareness, we can see small business opportunities for entrepreneurs in the area of safety improvement. Every business and industry is constantly looking at ways to improve technology and become safer. Much of that is done through good engineering and engineering problems out of the system.
I thank everybody associated with this fine report, including the rapporteur, Senator Martin Conway, Senator Denis O'Donovan and everybody who contributed. It is a fine piece of work and we have done the Seanad proud by producing it. Along with other speakers, however, I want to see action on it now. Some of the fine recommendations made in the report must be embraced by the Minister and the various organisations and Departments in order we can make the farm a much safer place on which to earn a living, raise families and improve agriculture. As we head into better times in agriculture, we should make the farm a much safer place.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and thank him for remaining for the entire debate. I compliment all involved in producing this excellent report, which I had an opportunity to read while I was in the Chair, including the Chairman of the committee, Senator Denis O'Donovan, the rapporteur, Senator Martin Conway, and Mr. Martin Groves who was the liaison person and secretary of the group. The group produced a very professional report at no additional cost to the House. I heard the Minister express his very personal involvement in and knowledge of the issues involved in this report.
I will not go through the excellent recommendations but will refer to my personal experience of living on a live farm with single suckler cows. There is less handling of cattle now, as the Minister knows. In the past, calves were bucket-fed and they got used to humans, but what is happening now, and I see this regularly, is that calves born on the farm are very sensitive. My wife, Mary, who is very conscious of that, and my son, Conor, are wary of going near cows when they are calving. That is a very dangerous period on a farm and it is something of which people must be aware.
There is a walk, the Suck Valley Way Walk, that goes through our land, which brings its own risks. I also know from walking the land, and not being there as much as others would be on the farm, that the cattle are very nervous of strangers.
They get quite aggressive. That is why I am glad such good input has come from the submissions made to the joint committee. However, I witnessed myself a cow with meningitis attack my wife, Mary. She avoided being hit but it was a very close shave.
There are so many dangers and it is a matter of being aware. That is why the report has got such good coverage. It is making people very aware that a farm is an industry and somewhere children have to be protected. It is very hard to watch children on a farm when one is busy with silage making and other work. To keep an eye on children is practically impossible in that case. No matter how much one might like to have one's son or daughter on the tractor going around the fields, one just cannot do it. It is not a social outing or something I can recommend. I have seen too many cases of people coming from the bog with children sitting on top of the turf. We have to be more conscious of those things. The Minister has highlighted this himself and put a great deal of effort into the area. It was one of his objectives, as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to ensure that this has happened.
I noted the point Senator David Norris made on a meter. It is a very good point and it should be looked at because far too often this invisible and tasteless gas comes out when slurry pits are being cleaned. Too many accidents have happened and people must be very careful in this regard. All the points made in the report are actionable. I believe the Minister will take action given his great involvement. In fact, having regard to his other role as Minister for Defence, I note that the Army's engineering corps is very knowledgeable about safety and equipment. Some of the points made on getting rid of old equipment and ensuring that there is protection on the equipment itself are very important indeed.
I congratulate all of those involved in the report and hope it will be taken on board. Having participated in this process, the farming organisations will make their members very well aware of the recommendations and concerns expressed. Through the Minister and advertising, the Department will ensure that people are made conscious of what is involved. Farming is a very demanding industry at this stage. I note a terrible tragedy in our area a few months ago where a cow attacked and killed a woman on a farm in Kilrooskey. What spooked the cow was a cat following the woman on the farm. More than a dog, it spooked the cow which went for the cat. All of these little things are matters people have to be conscious of. One has to be aware of the dangers in a dangerous business. Animals are not as passive as they were. When one goes into a field one has to take protection with one and ensure one can defend oneself against restless animals. One does not know what they are concerned about. They get nervous because they have calves.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to contribute to the debate from the practical point of view of living on a farm.
I thank the chairman of the committee, Senator Denis O'Donovan, the rapporteur, Senator Martin Conway, and all the other members. I thank all of those who made written submissions and who attended for the oral hearings. The submissions that were made here on the day were very informative. It was a productive day and the report is a very good one which reflects what was said at the oral hearings. Education is obviously the key and quite a number of recommendations have been made in that regard. I hope they will be acted on. Neither the Minister nor Minister of State was able to attend the hearings. They were away and had apologised but we have seen from his work that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, is very interested in and proactive on farm safety. We look forward to his comments in that regard. The Seanad did a good day's work in producing this report. Let us hope we have the necessary action as a result. One life is too many to lose in a farm accident. Unfortunately, we have lost many more than that. Let us hope our work will help in some small way to bring light to people and inform them of the difficulties and dangers that exist for farm families and on every farm in the country.
I thank the House for the invitation to attend and for devoting so much time to this issue. I congratulate Senators Denis O'Donovan and Martin Conway who acted as chairperson and rapporteur, respectively, for this report. I have read it and looked at the recommendations and will try to accommodate as many of them as possible. Some of the recommendations are already being implemented and I will outline to the House what we are doing in this area.
I welcome those who have taken time to be here this afternoon, including Brian and Norma Rohan from Embrace FARM, Patrick Duffy from Teagasc, Elaine Farrell from the IFA and others who have taken time out to listen to the conclusions and statements on the back of a comprehensive piece of work. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend for the hearings but I assure the House that I have had no shortage of conversations around farm safety over the last two or three years. Some of the actions I will outline that we are putting in place and some of what we are planning is reflective of this.
While we can do a lot and spend a lot of money, the truth is that the innovation that is needed here is a change of mindset on farms. It is all well and good talking about scrappage schemes for PTOs or alarm systems but, ultimately, people need to apply self-discipline and a change of attitude to farm safety. There must be strict rules that farms are not playgrounds for children, certainly in terms of particular areas. I refer in particular to the management of machinery and the handling of livestock which are powerful and unpredictable. We must stop the excuses and start to require that the hard things are done, which involves challenging people, including family, neighbours and fellow members of farming organisations, and working with the Department, the Health and Safety Authority and a multitude of other stakeholders who are trying to change attitudes. I refer for example to the FBD campaign Champions for Change, which is a great one. It is challenging people to think differently about farm safety.
This is no different from the fishing industry which has also had to change. Thank God, we have made significant progress in the last two to three years and the number of fatalities in the fishing industry has dramatically reduced. While it was one too many, only one life was lost last year and one the year before. It was seven lives the year before that. I was shocked by the 30 fatalities on Irish farms last year. The next closest figure to that in the last 11 years was 22. There were only three years in that period when it was over 20. Last year, we had this figure the cause of which we are still trying to get our heads around. Was it just a freak year or is there some trend in agriculture which is making it much more dangerous? When 6% of the working population are suffering the burden, trauma and grief of 60% of workplace fatalities, something is very seriously wrong. This year, 2015, must be the change year with everyone working together from Seanad Éireann to farming organisations, the HSA, my Department, support organisations like Embrace FARM and the young people who are determined to make a difference because of what they may have experienced or on foot of the ideas or innovations they want to bring forward.
Everybody is working together and they range from Seanad Éireann, to farming organisations, to the HSA, to my Department, to support organisations like Embrace FARM, to young people who are determined to make a difference because of what they may have experienced or wish to bring forward ideas or innovations. We need to embrace all of that to fundamentally change the way farm families collectively address farm safety in their homes and on their properties. That is the big difference here. Ten years ago, in many ways, the figures for tragedies on farms were a little disguised by the number of tragedies that took place on building sites because so many young men worked on building sites. We were building nearly 90,000 housing units a year which meant four in every ten young men worked on building sites and accidents came with such activity. Due to what has happened in recent years, and in particular last year, a line must be drawn in the sand to say "To this extent, this must stop." Many of us are trying to do that this year and for the future.
It is important to be honest and say that farms are dangerous places. Even if one carries out a safety audit on one's farm, even if one spends a fortune to get the most modern machinery available, even if one has a breeding programme to breed out negative traits from one's herd in terms of temperament, ease of calving, and all of the other things that we are trying to do with better breeding programmes and even if one is the best farmer in the country, sometimes freak accidents happen. Sometimes animals get spooked in a way that nobody can predict. Sometimes, when one is in a tractor or on a powerful piece of machinery, unexpected things happen that result in tragic accidents. Unfortunately, that will always be the case in agriculture, as well as fishing. Many farmers work on their own. They are up mountains looking after flocks or herds, they plough and harrow on their own and particularly when people are on their own unexpected things can happen that result in accidents. Therefore, we must do everything we can to change what we do control to try to reduce the risk of those accidents occurring. I do not think we have done enough which is why we are spending more money and having this debate. We are trying to reduce that level of risk by using technology, better design and changing attitudes. Quite frankly, we are spending money to reduce the risk on farms to children, elderly people and fit adults who are involved or linked to a farm.
I shall say one final thing about changing attitudes and then I shall talk about the suite of measures the Government is taking. One of the things that really struck me recently, at the Embrace FARM commemoration event and service, was the number of women in attendance who had lost husbands or sons to farm accidents. Women living on farms can play an important role in promoting safety. Some women are farmers themselves while others are involved in work that brings an income into the household. There is a need for families, internally, to challenge one another in terms of attitudes towards these issues. There is also a role for women in the fishing industry to challenge their husbands before they go to sea in terms of their approach towards safety, equipment, and communications and so on. No farmer should go to work on their own for the day without being able to contact home. I refer to basic things like carrying a mobile phone, and making sure that one has the capacity to communicate and call for help if required. A safety mindset has nothing to do with technology. We need a change in attitude towards what might go wrong. Unfortunately, many farmers talk about farm safety but they never really apply it to themselves. They never think that they could be the next statistic or the next person being treated in the accident and emergency ward and I know that from my own family. As a family we grew up on the sea and I remember talking about marine safety, drownings and so on but we never thought it could happen to our family. That outlook is what must change in order to really make a difference. We can assist in that and we will seek to effect a change.
Let me talk about some of the things we are doing because they are relevant to the some of the recommendations. On expenditure, we launched the first capital investment programme for farm safety last year which is called the farm safety scheme. We had 6,299 applicants which means the full €12.5 million that was available for the scheme is going to be drawn down. By the way, the scheme is way ahead of the other TAMS programmes which have not all been drawn down. That shows there is an appetite to respond.
In terms of the kind of things we have asked farmers to do, we have asked them to spend money on their farms to reduce risk but in obvious practical ways. That may mean putting new lids on slurry storage facilities, replacing slats in slatted sheds, erecting better handling facilities such as guards for when one is handling livestock or providing railings on steps. These are practical sensible measures.
In terms of the money, 4,850 applicants out of the original 6,299 have now been approved with an average of four items per approval and the remainder will be approved over the next couple of months. We deliberately put a tight timeframe on the scheme and the money needs to be spent by the end of August. I will not tolerate people seeking an extension unless there is a really good reason for doing so. This scheme is about trying to get people to spend money now. It is not about building up a credit that they can spend over the next couple of years. We want change to happen now on farms to reduce risk in terms of farm safety and that is why the scheme is generous. We will have a follow-on new farm safety scheme. We have learned lessons from the last scheme and will add areas where farmers can spend money. We will spend another considerable chunk of money on a new TAMS II round which will be launched later this year. As part of the new TAMS schemes, whether it is dairy TAMS, young farmer TAMS or livestock management TAMS, a whole series of schemes will be rolled out over the summer and into the autumn.
Before anybody gets money for the new TAMS II schemes it will be mandatory for all applicants to have completed a minimum of a half day's farm safety course. The only exception may be the direct injection slurry system which is a different type of TAMS. One can forget about getting money from my Department for new buildings and extensions, or anything that has to do with changing one's farmyard, if one has not done the half day farm safety course. If farmers want the Department to support them then they need to provide the edge. We want to support and help finance the modernisation of farmyards and, in return, we expect people to at least spend half a day on a certified farm safety course. I do not think that is unreasonable and the initiative is supported by all of the relevant organisations.
A number of people mentioned knowledge transfer groups. They have been very successful and we can do a lot through them. The dairy discussion groups were successful from the start. When I tried to introduce sheep discussion groups, I received a lot of criticism at the start of the initiative. Some sheep farmers told me that I was sending them back to school, etc. and asked if I could not just give them the money in some other way for turning up. If I tried to remove discussion groups for sheep now people would march on my Department because they see their value, and not just in terms of monetary support for turning up. Farmers listen to each other an awful lot more than they listen to me or, with respect, to anybody else in this House. Farmers listen to their neighbours when they are sitting next to them talking about what works on their farms and sharing knowledge. The most effective way, in my experience, of changing the way in which farmers approach things is learning from and wanting to get the best from different experiences by other farmers. We need to bring farm safety into that discussion. All of the new knowledge transfer groups, which is a snazzy name for discussion groups, are going to involve a mandatory farm safety course. In that way we will get farmers to talk to each other as well as talk to experts on farm safety and discuss how, in a practical sense, farmers need to respond in order to reduce the risk to themselves and to their families.
I want to talk about Brian and Norma from Embrace FARM.
When they came to see me last year, after Embrace FARM was set up, they asked if I would set up a single point of contact in the Department so that families who have had a bereavement or a serious accident on a farm could contact a particular person in the Department who would give them more time and be more flexible with them in terms of the information they need. We get a lot of questions and queries from lobby groups every day - from farming organisations, farmers and people questioning decisions we have made and also on inspection results and so on. A person might telephone the Department to say she has lost her husband and is trying to find a way of understanding how the farm business works but does not know where to start. She does not even know the deadline for applying for the single farm payment and needs to talk to somebody and get some help. That type of call needs to be treated differently. Likewise, if a person's husband, wife in some cases, son or whoever is the key person on the farm is in hospital or in rehabilitation, there is a need for someone in the Department who is trained and has the time and the approach that is appropriate for that type of call. We now have that single point of contact set up. I understand that the cases it has been dealing with have been quite successful. The number is relatively small but it is really important.
At the Embrace FARM commemoration last year I met a brave young woman trying to raise her family on a farm, having lost her husband in very difficult circumstances in a farm accident, trying to forge a way forward. We want to help those people and give them the flexibility, the options and the time they need, as opposed to adding to their stress levels through missed deadlines, cross-compliance concerns or whatever. We will show flexibility in that regard. I thank Embrace FARM for that suggestion.
In terms of getting the message out, this report has been very helpful. I agree with other speakers who said that if nothing else happens, this report has got quite an amount of media coverage. Things will happen following on from the report. This year, we sent out with our basic payment application packs more than 130,000 leaflets specifically focusing on farm safety and machinery. We will have a different theme each year. Last year it was livestock; this year it is machinery. We are using every opportunity when corresponding with farm families about basic payments or other schemes to raise the issue of farm safety to get a discussion going. Guidelines on building specifications that are being drawn up for the construction of agricultural buildings and structures will include health and safety guidelines as a mandatory aspect. We have a text alert system for farmers if we need to get a reminder out quickly in the event of a deadline change or the extension of an application process for a scheme. We are now using it actively for farm safety, reminding farmers at certain times of the year that they need to be looking out for certain dangers. There are times when more accidents occur - for example, in late spring, when the silage season starts, in the calving season on dairy farms, when slurry storage is at capacity, at harvest time on arable farms, and when there is pressure on families, with young teenagers piking bales and walking after balers making sure they are collected and dropped off. I did this myself for years. There is interaction that normally would not happen at other times of the year between the whole family in trying to get a harvest in before the rain comes. Those are the times of year when we need to be more careful, and we need to get messages out that people will listen to.
We are an active part of the farm safety partnership advisory committee. It is important to recognise the breadth of this committee, which has been place for some time. It comprises organisations such as the Health and Safety Authority, Teagasc, the Irish Farmers Association, Farm Relief Services, the Farm Tractor and Machinery Trade Association, the Irish Countrywomen's Association, the Health Service Executive, Veterinary Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, FBD, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association, Macra na Feirme, Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland, Irish Rural Link, Agri Aware and a few others that have joined recently. There is a real effort by many people to try to make a difference this year, and we hope it will make an impact. However, it is not yet having the impact we would like. There have been eight fatalities on Irish farms this year, and another person could be added to the number because a farmer on farm machinery died in a road accident which was categorised as a road fatality rather than a farm fatality. The figures are high but not as high as last year. However, last year is not the benchmark against which we want to measure in terms of where we need to be. We need to be in single figures, at worst, in trying to get the figures down. There is no acceptable figure, but certainly, fatality figures in the 20s or high 20s are not acceptable. For every fatality there are hundreds of accidents. For every fatality there are many families who are coping with rehab and lifetime injuries, physical and mental disabilities, trauma and post-traumatic stress, and many other things that scar families deeply. In many cases, members of the family never get over it in terms of the impact on family life.
Some comments were made about slurry gas meters and alarms. I have spoken to Teagasc about this issue at length. There are many in Teagasc's advisory service or among those who deal with farm safety who would say that although these are interesting pieces of technology, they can sometimes be more damaging than beneficial. When one has an alarm, one assumes that if it is not going off, everything is safe. It is in the very nature of farms that it might be fine for the first couple of weeks but the battery may go dead or the alarm may be disconnected. When people are agitating slurry in a shed, they will say they are fine because the alarm will go off if there is a problem. The reality is that in many cases the alarm will not go off on time and by the time it does go off it may be too late. When one has an alarm one gets sloppy. What is needed is behavioural guidelines on how to agitate slurry. One does not agitate slurry when one is in the same building as it. It should be done from the outside and when the wind direction is appropriate. The Teagasc advisers to whom I spoken about this and who are experts in farm safety are passionately opposed to this technology, but there are others who would make a strong case for it. I am not pretending I am judge and jury here. All I am saying is that there is a downside to an alarm system. It is not like a smoke alarm, because people can survive in smoke for quite a while. The gases that come from agitating a slurry tank can knock one out in five seconds. Once that happens, one is in deep trouble. Other people will come in and try to rescue the person and they will be knocked out also. We have seen in Northern Ireland and here the tragic consequences. All I am saying is that there is a place for technology, and there may be a place for alarm systems, but it is no replacement for sensible, practical guidelines on issues such as wind direction and ventilation to ensure when doing the practical things that have to happen on a farm, such as agitating slurry, people do it in a way that prevents the inhalation of gases in the first place.
The Health and Safety Authority is doing a great many things.
Some comments were made regarding the reduction in the number of inspections, which I thought were a criticism of the HSA. The HSA does not talk about inspections any more; rather, it talks about farm safety visits. The impression farmers have of inspections is a negative one. When an inspector walks in through the farm gate, the farmer freezes. There are many reasons for that, but we will not go into that today; we can deal with it another day. We want farmers to encourage farm safety visits. It needs to be an educational and not a threatening process. The HSA is saying to me that this is not about inspecting farms. These are visits to help farmers create better farms that are safer places in which to work. We will not solve this problem by having more inspections. We do not solve many things on farms, be it animal welfare issues or cross-compliance issues, by having more inspections. We need to have a certain number of inspections to make sure there is that stick but, in the case of farm safety, changes of attitude are far more likely to happen if we are proactive and positive rather than adopting a critical approach and trying to expose people. The reality is that not too many laws are being broken in farmyards, and farmers could do much more to address farm safety. If farmers do not have a railing or have a broken or cracked slat, they are not breaking any rules, but it is something they need to change. Inspections need to be become farm safety visits, and the HSA is working on that issue. It is trying to focus its resources on changing attitudes rather than simply making the claim at the end of year that it had X number of inspections and that is its job done. Members might bear that mind.
The HSA also has many initiatives around education and advocacy in schools, as well as at farming events and so on. We have launched some great initiatives, often led by young people, whether they be online or through poetry or imagery in books. There is a great book, the title of which I can always remember, Only a Giant can Lift a Bull, which says a lot about how a child looks at the size and power of livestock on their farms. They may be ushering an animal along with a Wavin pipe or whatever, but if the animal moves in the wrong direction in a serious way they can do nothing about it. It has many interesting stories, including stories about children being carried while standing on baler twine between the two arms at the back of a tractor, watching the PTO shaft spinning around between their legs. That is the type of experience to which many children who grew up on farms can relate, including me - getting a spin down the road or laneway standing on baler twine, with no proper guard on the PTO shaft. Those types of practice are not breaking the law, but they must not happen any more.
It is strange to make a comparison between climate change and farm safety, but the way attitudes are changing among a new generation towards something their parents would never have thought about is similar to the change in approach to recycling, emissions and so on. In the same way we saw a change in attitudes towards seatbelts and drink driving, we need a change of mindset towards farm safety. Getting young people to target their parents in terms of what is and is not acceptable is appropriate. In that regard, we may have to make some unpopular decisions. We have to ask ourselves the question: is it appropriate for a 15 year old, or a 12 or 14 year old in some cases, to be driving a tractor around a farmyard? It is legal, but is it appropriate? Is it appropriate for a 14 or 15 year old to be bringing in 30 tonnes of grain and tipping it into a dryer? I do not believe it is, even though I was that 15 year old. Without appropriate training, I am not sure that it is. We need to consider making some changes that may cause problems but perhaps are necessary in order to change attitudes and outcomes in terms of the number of tragedies that occur, with many of which farm families struggle to deal for years afterwards.
I hope that will give the Members a flavour of how we are responding to this issue. It is one that we are taking very seriously. It is probably the highest priority for me this year in terms of policy change. We are obviously implementing the Common Agricultural Policy, which is introducing a great deal of change that has been decided on at this stage, but when it comes to farm safety and saving lives, this year needs to be the year of change. I thank the Seanad for the contribution Members have made to that discussion and the contribution they will continue to make to it for the remainder of the year as people read these recommendations.
I am very encouraged by what I have heard from the Minister. It is important that we had this debate. It is like a big 600-piece jigsaw puzzle that a young person is trying to put together. The work we have done through our committee is just one small piece of that jigsaw puzzle. We, the Minister, his Department and the organisations concerned all have a role to play. The Minister was correct is saying that attitudes will have to change. With regard to farm inspections or farm safety visits, it is a matter for young farmers, in particular, to have peer-to-peer discussions and learn from each other. An interesting statistic in our report is that the smallest number of accidents occurs among those aged between 12 and 60, because young farmers are educated, smart, efficient and capable, and that is important.
I pay a sincere compliment to Mr. Martin Groves who did tremendous work as secretary to the committee. To use a west Cork expression, he did the donkey work and the heavy lifting, and we probably had the easier job in discussing the subject and coming up with policies.
On a matter related to changes in attitude, I read in today's Irish Examiner about an issue that was raised by the Minister's former colleague from Cork South-Central, Deirdre Clune, MEP, namely, that €4 billion is being spent in the EU each year on farm compliance issues - in other words, to enforce farm regulations. When we consider the difficulties facing Greece and those that our economy has had and still has, we can see that €4 billion would go a long way towards dealing with some of those. We as a European community are spending €4 billion to ensure that farm regulations are complied with. That money is being spent on policing farmers.
We find there is the same attitude to farm safety. Human error will occur on farms. Incidents will happen on farms, particularly involving children and people over the age of 70 years who are elderly and vulnerable. It is important to be focused and aware. I was encouraged by the various groups who made submissions and came to our committee hearings, some of whom are here today, and they are very welcome. I was particularly encouraged by a group of young people from the Mizen Peninsula, a very remote area, who are involved in a local GAA club. Not only have they done tremendous work in encouraging farm safety, but they have taken lessons in the new driving centre in Bantry, my home town, and they have also done work in their community with underage children on highlighting depression and other issues. If the communities and the public became more active and farming families a little more acutely aware of the potential danger on farms and what could happen, the work we have done would represent a small step towards improving the lot of farmers.
I understand and acknowledge the Minister's wonderful commitment to this issue. I have no doubt, le cúnamh Dé, that this year the number of people killed on farms will be down, and in the coming decade we should never again have the number of fatalities that occurred in 2014. We should strive to ensure the number is reduced to single digits, even though one death is one too many, and apart from that, many farmers suffer serious injuries. It is important that we have in some small way highlighted the issue through our work on farm safety. This debate brings the issue into focus for farm organisations, farming bodies and companies such as FBD that are involved in farming.
As farming and agribusiness is pivotal to this small nation's economy, we cannot allow these tragedies to happen. The Minister was correct about over-inspection. We should refrain from using the word "inspection" and instead provide more encouragement in terms of farm visits, farm safety days and so on. If 5,000 gardaí were deployed to police our roads, that would not prevent all road deaths when we take human error and other causes into account. We can only do so much, and the carrot rather than the stick approach should be taken in this area. Farmers are already heavily regulated. They resent the use of inspections. If a farmer is told that he or she will be subject to an inspection the following week for health and safety reasons, the antenna go up and immediately they go into reverse rather than forward mode. We need to encourage farmers to allow farm safety visits.
I do not mean to be derogatory but someone over the age of 70 years must do certain tests to be allowed to drive a car. It was frightening to learn that in 2014, many people over the age of 70 years, and some over 80, were involved in farm accidents, some to do with machinery. We might have to consider if there is an age beyond which someone should not be actively farming. It is not for me to decide that but we must examine all angles to see if we can reduce the number of deaths.
I thank the Minister sincerely, and everyone who contributed to the debate. We have had a good discussion and I am confident that with other similar debates and all of us working together, and if we save one life this year and perhaps two next year, we will be going in the right direction.