Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Farm Safety: Discussion

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I welcome our guests and sympathise with Mr. Rohan on his loss. Their opening statement was fantastic and set a tone for the debate, which is one we need to have more often. I acknowledge their presence and welcome them.

I made a couple of notes while they were speaking. I asked myself what would happen if I died tomorrow morning. How would my wife, Catherine, survive? I was thinking about how the bank account and the co-operative are both in my name and asking how that would work. Is my will up to date? I was thinking of issues all the way down to the coroner's court and the Teagasc adviser. There are so many to address in regard to how a farmer's family would survive if he or she was no longer at home. A great deal of communication is required. My discussion group and others need to be involved in order that we can prepare for what, unfortunately, could happen, although we hope it will not. That will be an issue for us a society and an industry.

Mr. Rohan spoke about training courses and I have a great story about them. A colleague of mine in a different industry ran a health and safety training course and was trying to get about 15 lads through it. They were not engaging, so the man in charge of the course began talking about children, what would happen if they were choking and what way the men would cut their sausages. The 15 of them perked up straight away and everyone started listening. When an issue affects people or they think it is logical, they will engage straight away. This is about engaging and trying to ensure we get out the message that we should not rush, even though that is something we all do.

The issue of how a family will survive after an accident is very important. We all know somebody, perhaps in our townland or parish, who has, unfortunately, lost a limb. I have a neighbour in the townland next to me who lost a limb when he was 12 years of age from a PTO shaft. We have all lost neighbours over recent years and we all know exactly who has been lost and how. How we deal with that as a society is the big issue. That debate and trying to get that information out there is the most important matter.

I have spoken previously about young drivers of quads and similar issues that need to be raised. Is it appropriate that a 16-year-old might drive a charter that can do 60 km/h and carry 25 tonnes behind it? There is demand for these girls and boys in summertime but there needs to be a debate in society as to when we should say "stop". That will be a difficult debate because we are working harder to provide for our families but, unfortunately, we are putting ourselves at risk. The debate on when to say "stop" will be the most important one.

Our guests' services are very important, both for society and for those who are left behind. They concern a big issue and I compliment them on those services. A farm fatality is shocking but, in many ways, a farm accident is just as bad.

It means that people might not have the ability to take full control of the farm in the same way as they did previously. I have a personal friend who is in that scenario. As a farmer with a young family, dealing with that, mentally in particular, is a trauma not alone for him but the entire family and, probably, the entire community as well. There are so many moving parts to this. The most important part is the participation of services like Embrace FARM. It gives a focus so that people can talk about it, get involved and acknowledge that there is a problem. We need to start scenario planning for the "What if?" That is what I am taking away from this debate. We need to start that scenario planning because, God forbid, there are an awful lot of things that would need to be tied up if that is not done. I compliment the witnesses on their work. What do they think we, as a committee, can do? Where do we need to go?

Several years ago, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee did a report on farm safety and raising awareness around farm safety. Senator Paul Daly and I, as members of that committee, were very involved in that work. Do we need to do more? What are the issues about which we need to raise awareness? Where do the witnesses think this debate is going to go? In terms of the mental health issue, as it gets darker earlier in the evening, people have too much time to think. That is a big issue that we need to start talking about. Peter Hynes was mentioned, whom I know personally. He is a very good advocate on this issue. I often say to him that he does his best to drive me mad about date nights. He continuously does so every Saturday night. He is out to show us all up. We have to have time for ourselves and our families as well. It is not just all about work. I thank the witnesses for being here. This has been one of the most important discussions we have had as a committee. I acknowledge the wonderful contributions of the organisation.