Commodity Watch - Health and Safety: Regulation and Responsibility

Saturday, 20 September, 2014

Commodity Watch

Recent figures from HSENI show that the number of farm-related deaths has decreased substantially: thenumber of all work-related fatalities in 2013/14 was down to 10, compared to 19 in the previous year, but the biggest fall was seen in the agriculture sector with the number of work-related fatalities down to four, compared to 11 in the previous year – a fall of 67%. This reduction is most welcome and shows that farmers are going the extra mile to take responsibility for their own safety and that of their families.

Farmers have been well supported in this- a total of forty-one machinery dealers have this week offered a fifteen percent discount on PTO guards and fitting and repair of these guards- which are essential to be able to carry out agricultural work safely. This willingness of industry to put the safety of their customers first speaks volumes about the changing mindset towards health and safety in the wider agricultural sector.

However, the UFU is fully aware that statistics like these are of little comfort to those who are left grieving as a result of a farm tragedy. Groups like Rural Support provide an invaluable service in helping those who have had to deal with a loss and many families have found it very helpful. The specter of a farm death is one we hope will never come to our door, but the fact remains that farming is a very dangerous activity, and vigilance must be maintained. Four deaths is still four too many.

There have been repeated calls for HSENI to take a harder line on inspection regimes, but it is important to remember that there are two goals they hope to achieve: to root out bad practice; and to encourage good practice. Simple logic would lead me to believe that the most efficient way of getting rid of bad practice is to turn it into good practice- and this requires a change in thinking. Farmers do take their safety seriously and will take the necessary measures once they know how to go about it: knowing that people, like the FSP and the forty-one dealers are standing behind them will only encourage them further to take control of their own safety.

It is vital the standards that farmers who have taken the necessary steps are not allowed to slip back. The UFU would encourage farmers to continue to take responsibility and put their safety first. There is a place for regulation; but responsibility is better.