By Brian McCalden
The human cost of bringing Ulster produce to the grocery shelves was underlined last month as the NI Farm Safety Partnership issued its plan to improve safety, writes Brian McCalden.
The event was appropriately held at Ravenhill Rugby ground in Belfast, where a tribute to a tragic farming family had taken place last year.
Twenty-two-year-old Ulster Rugby star Nevin Spence was killed in September 2012 along with his 30-year-old brother Graham, and their 52-year-old father Noel. They were all overcome by slurry gas in a tank at their farm in Hillsborough, as both sons went to the aid of their stricken dad.
The facts are stark: farm accidents have accounted for a full three-quarters of all fatal incidents in 2012. Since April alone there were ten farm deaths with the local agricultural sector also suffering one of the highest workplace accident rates in the UK and Ireland.
Since April 2007, more than 40 people in Northern Ireland have been killed as a direct result of agricultural activities. Many more have been seriously injured.
The human cost is therefore disproportionately high with the Farm Safety Partnership being set up in May last year specifically to address the alarming increase.
The Plan for Northern Ireland, was developed by the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI), the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), National Farmers Union Mutual (NFUM) and the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU).
Launching the Action Plan, the DUP Health and Safety Minister Arlene Foster said: “Accidents resulting in serious injury or death continue to be a very real danger for farmers.”
The Fermanagh native continued: “Too many families have had to suffer the unspeakable grief of losing a loved one as a result of a farming accident and I have seen at first hand the devastating effect it has on those who are left behind.
Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill, who also attended, added: “Every death on our farms is a tragedy. It is a tragedy for society, for the industry, and for the community.
“Over the past seven months I know that the Farm Safety Partnership has been working tirelessly to reduce and to ultimately eradicate fatalities on farms. It is also extremely re-assuring to know that the Partnership is pushing on with its work, that it is keen to maintain momentum, and that it is striving to build on the sound foundations that have been laid over the last seven months.”
HSENI Chairman, George Lucas said: “Individually and collectively, all the bodies which make up the Farm Safety Partnership have been working tirelessly to help raise awareness of the issues involved and ensure that the farm safety message to ‘Stop and think SAFE’ continues to resonate among the farming community.
“This dedicated Action Plan will underline those efforts on a jointly-agreed basis and bring into sharp focus the immediate goals to be achieved.”
UFU President, Harry Sinclair added: “I would ask every farmer in Northern Ireland to support the Farm Safety Action Plan.”
The suckler beef and sheep producer from Draperstown, continued: “The Plan will have the maximum impact if farmers adopt a mindset that safety is a priority issue for them every day on their farm. We all have a collective responsibility to make our industry much safer and (this) is another positive initiative in this process.”
The main causes of fatal accidents on our farms, both in Northern Ireland and wider afield, are due to four main causes, slurry accounts for (15%) of these accidents. The other accidents have been caused by animals (27%); falls (27%) and equipment including vehicles (27%).