"I support Senator Paul Daly's Bill, which addresses a very important issue. We underestimate the seriousness of health and safety practice on farms and farm businesses, and the related statistics on injury and death. As Senator Paul Daly notes, one cannot treat a farm like another business because, very often, the business and the home are inextricably linked, if not one and the same. It is a unique set-up. As the president of a farming union in Northern Ireland some years ago, I am aware that it is probably easier to regulate, control and issue a set of directives for the management of risks in other areas of business. A farm, however, is not like a building site, being often more extensive and more spread out.
I was involved in setting up the Farm Safety Partnership in Northern Ireland at a time when one farmer per month was losing his or her life through farm fatalities. It was a completely unacceptable statistic which we knew we had to address. The partnership approach was essential to the success of that initiative, incorporating the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, the Ulster Farmers Union, the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association and the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster.
We found that a vital part of improving safety on farms was raising awareness of the risks. If we can elevate awareness, we often will mitigate some of those risks immediately. Another important aspect is driving behavioural change. An interesting phenomenon one encounters when having this discussion with farmers is that they are a unique bunch of individuals in that they do not fear death, which is a frightening thing to observe. What they do fear is leaving their spouses and children with the mess and horror of having to cope if they are injured. It is the fear of the consequences of their being taken out of the farm business. When it came to behavioural change, we found early on that the key drivers in this were children, grandchildren, wives and partners. They were the people who, by their interaction with the alpha male in the business, drove changes in practice.
It is important to keep the message simple. In the North, we came up with the acronym SAFE, which stands for the four main farming hazards, namely, slurry, animals, falls and equipment. It was also important that we identified at the outset the two key vulnerable groups, namely, the young and the old. It is sometimes the case that farmers with a lifetime of experience of working the land reach the point where they are not as mobile and agile as they used to be and cannot react to a situation quickly enough to avoid an accident.
On a note of caution, the Farm Safety Partnership worked in Northern Ireland because there was only a small number of partners. When an attempt was made to replicate the same model in Great Britain, a meeting which had involved four or five partners in Northern Ireland was attended by 62 stakeholders. It was so unwieldy and unmanageable that it was difficult to deliver effective change. Anything we can do to prevent loss of life on farms must be supported and encouraged. The key thing is partnership and co-ordination, working together rather than having a silo mentality. I support the Senator's important Bill."
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