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File image of a tractor harvesting hay in Doolin, County Clare Alamy Stock Photo
HSA Inspection

Irish Farmers' Association criticise plans for 'blitz of farm inspections' amid heavy rain

The Health and Safety Authority said inspectors will be ‘undertaking a nationwide farm inspection blitz over the coming weeks’.

THE IRISH FARMERS’ Association (IFA) has criticised plans for a “blitz of farm inspections” amid recent heavy rain fall.

Yesterday, the CEO of the Health and Safety Authority, Conor O’Brien, said that HSA inspectors will be “undertaking a nationwide farm inspection blitz over the coming weeks”.

However, IFA president Francie Gorman told The Journal that this statement was “tone deaf” and “completely out of touch with the reality of what’s going on at farms”.

Gorman instead called for inspections to be halted at this “trying time” when farmers are struggling with prolonged periods of rain.

Many farmers cannot access grassy land because of the wet ground conditions and tillage farmers cannot get onto their land to plant their crops.

The HSA’s Conor O’Brien was speaking in support of a farm safety awareness campaign that was yesterday launched by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Enterprise.

The joint campaign will focus on farm vehicles and machinery and aims to promote farm safety practices and behavioural change when operating farm vehicles and machinery.  

Over the past decade, there have been 191 farm fatalities, with over half (96 people) being killed in incidents involving farm vehicles and machinery.  

Some 16 of the 17 child fatalities in the same period involved farm vehicles and machinery.  

Launching the joint media campaign yesterday, Minister of State with responsibility for Farm Safety, Martin Heydon said these “sobering figures highlight the serious safety risks associated with farm vehicles and machinery”.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise Neale Richmond also called on farmers to “take safety on their farms seriously and take common sense actions to protect themselves and their families”.

Meanwhile, HSA CEO Conor O’Brien noted that “many of these incidents are caused by poor maintenance and upkeep” of farm machinery and vehicles.

He added that HSA inspectors will be “undertaking a nationwide farm inspection blitz over the coming weeks to support this campaign and help farmers understand and address the issues”.

However, IFA president Francie Gorman has called planned inspections to be suspended “in the context of the deplorable weather conditions on farms”.

Data from Met Éireann shows that rain fall was above average in most of the country last month, with the wettest conditions hitting the south and east.

The IFA president said he has spoken to Minister Hayden and “made it clear that these inspections cannot proceed, as they would be counterproductive regarding health and safety and farmer welfare”.

“The pressure on farmers is unprecedented, with terrible weather forecast for the next week,” said Gorman.

Gorman told The Journal that the workload is “mounting up and farmers are finding it hard to cope” with the weather.

“We have a tillage sector where only half the winter crops have gone in and virtually none of the spring crops have been sowed, and we’ve passed peak planting season,” said Gorman.

He added: “For farmers to have to cope with the workload associated with these inspections, it just beggars belief.”

Gorman said the inspections “build up pressure on farms” and added that farmers are already proactive about farm safety.

“We’re not saying there shouldn’t be on-farm inspections,” said Gorman.

“We’re just saying for this period of time, until this pressure that has built up mainly due to bad weather passes, inspections should cease.

“In general, farmers maintain their machinery in a good way and in my opinion, what causes the most accidents on farms is the level of pressure that farmers are under at certain times of the year to get work done.

“Having inspections going on is only going to heighten that pressure to a greater degree and that in itself is a danger.”

Meanwhile, Gorman also called on “banks and merchants to provide easy, accessible credit to farmers who are trying to buy winter feedstocks” and for milk processors to pay a “hardship top-up” of three cents per litre on all March milk.

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