Wednesday, 29 May 2019
Farm Safety Agency Bill 2018: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the Minister to the House. I will begin by providing some background information on farm safety issues and fatalities on farms, of which not everyone may be aware. Unfortunately in the year to May, nine of the 17 recorded workplace deaths happened on farms or in the agricultural sector. The sector accounted for more than 50% of workplace fatalities but only accounts for 5% of the workforce.There are also many non-fatal accidents. To provide one quick statistic on that, the Teagasc national survey for 2012 to 2017 showed that there were 2,814 accidents on Irish farms, which is to say that there were accidents on 11% of all farms surveyed. The amount of accidents - whether minor or otherwise, they are still accidents - which go unreported must also be factored in. It is up to individuals to report them and, as we can all appreciate, many accidents are never reported.
Based on what I have outlined and on my lifetime of involvement in agriculture - I was born on a farm and still farm part time - I was very aware of this issue when I came into the Seanad and beforehand, when I was on the council. One sees these figures, which are astounding, throughout one's life, especially when one has a vested interest. With what might be called a burst of enthusiasm or, perhaps, political naivety when I came in here I took on this issue, along with some other things, as something I believed I could do something about or something I could influence in order to help to reduce the figures I have mentioned.
I was appointed to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. When we were setting out a work programme at the start of our term I proposed that farm safety be included on it. I thought I could start to achieve my goal from there. Unfortunately, I was informed on the day that I was at the wrong committee, that it was a matter for the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and that the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, and the Minister under whose aegis it falls had ultimate responsibility. I was told that it was outside the remit of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to deal with farm safety. Despite this, on the three occasions on which I have been here for farm safety week, it has been the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine who has come before us. When one raises questions about farm safety, as often as not Teagasc is quoted or one is referred to Teagasc.
I began to look at this conundrum and as I carried out research and looked into it I saw that many agencies, both State agencies and NGOs, are doing good work but that many of the problems we have are caused by issues falling through the cracks and by a lack of co-ordination or contact between the various bodies, both State and non-State. I started research on this project 18 months ago and we are only discussing it today. During my research and studies I did a lot of reading up on the Road Safety Authority. At some stage the penny dropped with me. The reason for its success since its inception and formation in 2006 was that it provided a direct link between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which policed the roads, the Department of Transport, which was responsible for the roads and, to an extent, the Department which had authority over the HSA. The Road Safety Authority was formed in 2006. In that year there were 365 fatalities on our roads; in 2018 there were 147. Fatalities have more than halved.
What I am proposing is not identical, but it is based on this model. I am not saying that it will or can produce the same results, but it is a starting point. I want to make it clear that what I am proposing in this Bill, the farm safety agency I would like to see set up, is a starting point. I am quite prepared to meet with Members from all parties and none to work through the procedures in place. I would hope to do that on Committee Stage. I am prepared to look at amendments. I hope that people can improve the Bill. I will accept any constructive criticism or improvements to what I am proposing.
What I am proposing is a farm safety agency. This would be a body within the HSA. Some people to whom I have spoken have said that they like the idea, which they believe is good, has potential, and could make a difference, but ask whether we are setting up a new body, or "quango" as they are called in some circles. Section 2(1)(d) of the Bill refers specifically to, "a work programme prepared by the Agency and submitted to the Authority". The new section 35(1A) to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 proposed in section 4 states, "Where the Authority considers it appropriate in the circumstances, additional functions conferred on it under this section may, in whole or in part or for specified purposes, be performed by the Agency under section 36A(3)(l)." This proposed new section in turn states, "There is established a body within the Authority to be known as [...] the Farm Safety Agency". I am not looking for a brand new body. I am not trying to reinvent the wheel. What I want to introduce is an agency within the Health and Safety Authority which would have sole responsibility for safety issues relating to farms and agriculture. This agency would not just be a sub-committee or forum, but an agency with statutory and legislative footing. It would, could and should create a link between the two interested and relevant Departments, namely, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
The reason a specific individual farm agency is needed, as opposed to the arrangements in place under the Health and Safety Authority, is that, as workplaces go, farms are unique and very different from the average industrial workplace. There are 140,000 family farms in Ireland; "family" being the operative word. The farmyard can be a playground for the younger generation or a focus of interest for the elder generation who like to be out and to see how things are going. By its nature, farming is very much dependent on the weather, which brings with it a lot of pressures. One can have three wet days in a season, such as the silage season in which we are in at the moment, and then one can have four days' work to do in one day when the fine weather comes. That is a pressure not felt in every other sector.
People will have heard me raising issues of farm income, subsidies and the lack of disposable income farmers have nowadays on numerous occasions. That lack of spendable money means that health and safety issues are often, although not always, put on the long finger. The money is just not there to spend on the necessary repairs to equipment and so on. In farming one is faced with the combination of machinery, animals and chemicals. There are many different dangers. It is a unique way to earn one's livelihood. There are a hell of a lot more possibilities for accidents to occur than in many other sectors. That is why it is so vitally important to have an agency that will look at this sector specifically, taking into consideration the risks and constraints I have mentioned, and which will make a link with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to incentivise, if needs be, some of the measures that need to be taken.
Having said that, while I am specifically proposing the formation of this agency, I am not touching upon, proposing or mentioning any policies that agency could or should enact. I will leave such matters to the agency when it is formed. As I said at the outset, I started out with the hope that I could influence policy direction in respect of farm safety but, because of the difficulties I encountered in my research, I quickly realised that an agency was needed to co-ordinate the good work being done. I do not want to be in any way critical of any of the personnel or agencies, whether Government or non-Government, who are doing fine work. We do not know whether the figures I have quoted would be a lot worse if it were not for the great work being done by the HSA, Teagasc, AgriKids, Agri Aware, Bord Bia and the farm representative bodies. I am not coming in here to be critical of anybody. I am coming in here to try to help all of those people who are working diligently. I am trying to start the conversation and to show that we care and will do something to help the many families who have been bereaved or whose family members have been incapacitated.When there is a bereavement or serious injury on a farm it affects many people. For example, it affects the parents and the extended family if a young person is involved. If a farmer is involved, it affects the running of the business and, in turn, puts extra strain on those left behind. Given the nature of rural Ireland and the farm family set-up in rural Ireland, a farm fatality affects an entire community. It can bring down a parish or locality. The people affected come together and rally. Those helping out a family who have had some difficulty may be unable to do their own work and this puts extra pressure on their work. That in itself creates a chain reaction.
We need to have a frank and open debate on this topic. I hope I receive the support of the House. What I am proposing may not be what will come out at the other end, but at least we have to analyse it, look through it, go through it, tease it out and see its merits. I believe that after 18 months of work and research, this is a credible solution to the problem we have. It is a solution that can and will help to change the numbers I read out at the start. Some people may say it will be costly or may use money reasons to argue for why it may not work. I genuinely believe that it will be cost-effective and cost-efficient. I am not talking about setting up a brand new agency. It might involve sideways movements of staff. If it is efficient enough it might curtail or cut expenditure being spent by so many different bodies and agencies. In the long run, if we save a life or save people from injury, we would save money that would be spent indirectly through the health services and other supports. I do not think it will be any more expensive to operate but I believe it will be far more efficient and effective.
I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber this afternoon. On a personal level, I am delighted to second the Farm Safety Agency Bill 2018 put forward today by my colleague, Senator Paul Daly. At this point I wish to compliment Senator Daly on bringing forward this important legislation. I wish to compliment him on the many long hours and days he has put in to bringing this critical legislation to the House this afternoon.
We all know that the farm is potentially a dangerous place to work. Unfortunately, the statistics available to us highlight this fact. During the past ten years, on average, Irish farms account for more than 40% of all workplace fatalities. Like Senator Paul Daly, I wish to acknowledge that good work is being done by many groups on the farm safety issue. However, the statistics show that something different needs to be done and that a new approach needs to be taken. The contents of the Bill put forward by my colleague clearly give good guidelines and direction to what needs to be done to reduce the fatalities on a farm.
We all know farmers work long hours. It is certainly not a nine-to-five, Monday to Friday occupation. Many farmers spend much of that time working on their own. As we know many dangers arise in working on Irish farms, whether those related to machinery, working livestock or chemicals of one kind or another.
When any fatality occurs it is heartbreaking for those involved but when a fatality occurs on a farm it is equally or even more heartbreaking. Unfortunately, the statistics show, more often than not, that the victim is a child of a farmer or someone connected with that family. As we know, when it happens on a farm there is a permanent reminder. Every day the farmer goes out to work there will be a permanent reminder of what happened and when and where it happened. That will stay with such farmers for the remainder of their lives.
Clearly, something needs to be done and a new direction needs to be taken. I believe the Bill put forward by my colleague, Senator Paul Daly, clearly gives some direction to what needs to be done. The bringing together of all the different agencies currently doing good work in this area would give them more focus and direction. It is to be welcomed.
Since I come from a farm background, I understand what it is like to work on a farm. Unfortunately, as Senator Paul Daly outlined this afternoon, the statistics show there are many dangers, as I outlined earlier, on Irish farms. In light of that fact, I spoke earlier this morning on a survey conducted recently by the HSE in respect of farming and farming practices. The survey came away with the conclusion that farmers are more at risk than any other occupation from mental health issues and physical health issues as well because of the time they spend on their own and the social isolation many of them go through.
I am delighted and honoured to be associated with this legislation. I compliment my colleague, Senator Daly, on bringing this forward.
Any work that can be done, the result of which might reduce a single farm fatality, has to be worthwhile. I hope all Members will embrace this legislation as a genuine attempt by my colleague, Senator Daly, to address this heart-breaking issue for many farm families.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome Senator Paul Daly's Bill. I believe it is important that it highlights an area that is of considerable concern. There are many reasons for the statistics, which the Senator has read into the record. He noted that in the past ten years, between 2009 and 2018, the number of workplace fatalities in agriculture was 486 or 41% of the total number of workplace fatalities. Yet agriculture staff represent only 6% of the total workforce. Clearly the types of accidents happening on farms arise for a host of different reasons. I grew up on a farm myself. I spent every summer there. People become very familiar with cattle and large animals. People take things for granted. There is heavy machinery around the place. Children are playing in yards. Farmyards and farms are now places of work. That is the culture shift of which we need to ensure that people take cognisance. There has been a considerable number of farm visits by the Health and Safety Authority and those responsible take this issue seriously. I understand in the region of €500,000 has been spent on this area. Nonetheless, we have an unacceptability high incidence rate. There are terrible tragedies and children are particularly vulnerable. There is an old saying holding that familiarity breeds contempt. In this instance, familiarity breeds a little indifference and comfort. I am always taken aback at how many older farmers walk with their back to large cattle and take the view that they are quiet. Sometimes they are unpredictable and that can result in terrible damage. It is not only the fatalities we are concerned with but the lifelong injuries that many suffer as a consequence of activity around farmyards. As we know, many farmyards are now busy places as farms expand.
I hear precisely what Senator Gallagher said in respect of the social isolation that farmers feel, but that is for another day. Some good advertisements have been made by the HSA on farm safety. One such advertisement is running at the moment.There were older ones, too, notably those highlighting the danger of children falling into large collection vessels for water. Those types of tragic accidents did happen over the years. We need a major effort to educate farmers and farming families that the yard is a workplace that can be dangerous and is not, as it used to be, an extension of the home.
I welcome Senator Paul Daly's efforts to address these issues in the Bill. I am pleased the Government is not opposing it but will instead seek to explore, with the Senator, how to forward his ambition of reducing the number of fatalities and injuries that occur on farms. I agree that the Health and Safety Authority is in a position to take a leading role. The Senator does not intend that a separate agency be established but, rather, that a body within the HSA be given this function. How that might work in practice is a matter for further exploration. I welcome the emphasis placed on the serious issue of health and safety on farms. It is something that requires special attention as we seek to keep rural communities intact and encourage people to settle in rural areas instead of migrating to cities.
I thank Senator Reilly for sharing time to allow me to comment on this important issue. I was part of a delegation from the transport committee which went to Australia in 2004 in advance of the establishment of the Road Safety Authority. Australia was the world leader on road safety at the time, and probably still is, and we brought back the information we gathered there and presented it to the committee. What was done in Australia was put into law here, with great results, as Senator Paul Daly noted. Fatalities on the roads have reduced from 348 in the year the RSA was set up to some 150 per year now.
I welcome the Senator's Bill and am delighted the Government is not opposing it. An issue I wish to bring attention to relates to a particular change in farming practices in the past 20 years. When I was a youngster growing up on a farm, although there was less machinery available to us, younger people were more familiar with the handling of machinery and livestock than they are today. It seems to be the norm now on many family farms that the young people, first of all, are not interested in most of the work involved in running a farm and, second, are not asked to do it by their parents. This is an issue that should be examined because, as colleagues noted, young people are at risk where the family farm is also their playground. They should be au faitwith how machines operate, how silage is cut, how cattle are herded, handled and so on. Senator Paul Daly is probably right that there needs to be a separate agency to oversee and direct these matters. It is different from road safety because there are so many different aspects to farming, including silage making, slurry disposal, working with animals, spraying crops, operating heavy machinery and managing traffic in yards where people are under pressure of work and changing weather conditions. There are dangers and risks where family members are not knowledgeable about how things work on a farm. This is an area that might be considered for inclusion in the Bill.
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.
I commend Senator Paul Daly on his proactive approach not only in bringing forward this legislation but, in addition, providing an excellent explanatory leaflet which outlines the case for his proposals. In the rural parts of my home county of Donegal, as in other rural areas, we have lost too many lives to farm accidents. As other speakers noted, a farm is not a like other workplaces because it is where families live and children grow up and play.I was looking at this publication from the Health and Safety Authority and Teagasc. It teaches about farm safety but is clearly aimed at young people and their parents. This is an excellent example but there is not enough of it. There is not enough focus on it.
Senator Paul Daly made a comparison with the Road Safety Authority. I must commend him on this comparison because we had a serious problem and there is never any room for complacency in terms of road safety in Donegal. At one stage, my home peninsula of Inishowen lost 18 young people under the age of 25 within 18 months. It was horrific. There is a lot of discussion about what we are going to do about this. Such was the scale of the tragedies we had at national level that many good people offered assistance. What emerged from that was, thankfully, a dedicated focus on road safety through the Road Safety Authority with public information campaigns where shocking stories were told to people. When one looks at this information leaflet from Senator Paul Daly, one can see that the statistics are devastating. Half of the accidents are on farms. Clearly, what we are doing is not working.
We always worry about the idea of another dedicated agency. Remember that years ago, there was all this talk about too many quangos but I commend the model because the Senator talks about how it will be an independent agency under the authority of the Health and Safety Authority. This is a really thoughtful approach. The Senator has put a lot of thought into it. It is unusual. Sadly, much legislation in here does not have explanatory memoranda or an attempt to win support for it. I am pleased to confirm that my party is supportive and am thankful to the Senator for the amount of the work and effort he has put into this and the imaginative and thoughtful way he has approached it. It is worthy of support. The Health and Safety Authority does its best with the resources it has and has a wide spectrum within workplaces to consider but, unfortunately, we clearly need a dedicated focus on farm safety. On that basis, we support the legislation and look forward to working with the Senator through the next few Stages as the Bill progresses.
This is becoming repetitious but it still needs to be said. I thank Senator Paul Daly for bringing forward this legislation. The Title, which refers to a farm safety agency, is a critical element of the Bill. While there are businesses and workplaces - even family businesses - where perhaps somebody lives over the shop, with a farm, the person lives in the machine workshop. The person lives where the work goes on, which is the issue. It is a precious thing to arrest people with that idea, namely, that this is not just a place of work but a place where people live. When they run out to the car to get something, they are going into the workshop - the place where the work happens. That is a critical issue.
Senator Reilly and others have spoken about children while others have mentioned older farmers and isolation. It is a mystery as to why there are not more injuries and fatalities. There are many elements that conspire to make this an important and focused piece of legislation. I come from rural Ireland. I grew up on a pig farm but that was not exciting enough for me. All the farms around me were dairy farms, which was where the action was, but none of them had tractors at that time. Taking out the pony and horse and bringing in machinery was fuelled by the EU, although I am not blaming it. Getting into the EU, getting fertilisers on farms, improving production, speeding things up and farmers being able to get credit and buy a little Mickey Mouse tractor for the first time along with a milking machine, are great things that have put us right up there in terms of our exports and our reputation as an exporting nation. For the first few years of the recession, the only good story in this country involved our farming exports. We were on our knees and everything had gone wallop. I make that emotional appeal and statement that farming has served this country well. It was the only thing we had going for us during those first few years to give us a chance to recover.
I had my own experience of walking across a covered slurry pit but I stood on a sheet of galvanised material that was covering it up. I did not know this at the time - I am not that stupid - but I stood on the sheet of galvanised material, which was lovely and shiny on the outside but was totally corroded underneath. Only for the fact that I threw myself forward, they would be looking for me. I am thinking of a lovely nephew of mine who is crazy about farming. He is 12 and would be good at it. As a young man, his grandfather, who only died seven or eight years ago, was mangled with a power take-off, PTO, shaft. He survived and much of it was down to his youth and fitness. Another ten years later, it might have been different. We all have those stories. We cannot easily keep children from wanting to be active and out and about.
It is important for us to struggle with this issue. It is great that it has come into this House, which has a better tradition of talking things through and hearing what other folk are saying, first. I emphasise the Title and branding of this Bill, which focuses on farming being a black spot when it comes to safety. As mothers, daughters and wives, it is women who are more involved in farming than they would have been in the past, who worry every day and every night when the lads are out, be it in winter or summer, day or night. We owe it to them to give them a bit more peace of mind by improving safety. Senator Marshall spoke about changing the culture and mindset and that was very much around the women on the farms.
I am delighted the Government is supporting this Bill. I heard very positively what Senator Paul Daly said. It may not end up the way it started. That is not the point. The point is that we get into this, have it over and back and get a piece of legislation that will serve rural Ireland. At the start, Senator Paul Daly said that an accident can bring down a parish. These kinds of things do bring parishes down so it is not just about a person or family. It is a community thing.
I commend Senator Paul Daly for the body of work he has done to bring this item before the House today and thank him for putting this issue centre stage. It is so important that we try to do what we can to reduce fatalities and serious life-changing injuries arising out of farm accidents. It is a real weak spot for farm families. Senator Paddy Burke spoke about the change in farming over the past number of years.We could safely say in the past 30 to 40 years, the mechanisation of farming have brought us to this point. We need to catch up with that and be prepared and respond appropriately. The largest amount of incidents involve tractors, followed by farm machinery and then livestock. We all know that livestock are not handled as previously; there is not the same familiarity with human beings etc. A myriad of things need to be addressed there.
I was concerned to read that in the past four years the number of Health and Safety Authority inspections of farms had halved. I believe this is something Senator Paul Daly's Bill can serve to highlight. When I talk of inspections, many of these inspections can simply be an intervention where a bad habit has been formed in dealing with machinery such as not covering a PTO shaft etc. Sometimes such an intervention from an outside person highlighting the danger of the practice can assist. I know the Health and Safety Authority also sends notices. It is not all about prosecutions. It is about prevention and guiding people in the right way.
Other things could assist in the matter. Youngsters in secondary school can study agricultural science just as they can study other practical subjects such as woodwork and technical drawing. I believe there is scope to introduce secondary school courses in manual handling and courses equivalent to the Safe Pass for farming. Many secondary school students who want to continue on in the family farm or to get into farming know it at that stage. Why not equip them in a practical way for what is ahead of them and allow them to develop awareness that they are dealing with dangerous equipment? We would be giving them a life skill and helping their families. There are farmers further along and obviously that is not a suggestion for them. We can all be educated about the dangers of this machinery. I ask that for the issue of education to be looked at. It would mean that when they leave school and go to a farm college or whatever they are ready to go out in the farm. At least we can be confident that we have gone some way towards that education piece.
As has been said, injuries arising from farm accidents can affect young and old. It pierces very deep in communities, as has been highlighted. With the objective and underlying purpose expressed in the Bill, I hope we can see immediately some more prioritisation with the Health and Safety Authority regarding its approach to farming practices and then in due course taking into account further what Senator Daly has proposed.
I am delighted we are having this debate. I am delighted that my Oireachtas colleagues in the Seanad are raising the awareness of farm safety. It is a really good forum for raising it. I thank Senator Paul Daly for raising the issue. It is really important to have a debate about it.
I work with the Health and Safety Authority on a regular basis given the remit I have as Minister of State. I have seen at first hand the professionalism of the Health and Safety Authority not just in farming, but also in the pharma and construction sectors. I am very proud to be associated with the Health and Safety Authority.
I know Senator Daly said in his introduction that this is about having a new approach. As I also come from a farming background, I am also interested in the subject. I have also taken a new approach to this and worked hand in hand with the Health and Safety Authority, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, and the farming organisations. I will say more about that later. I am passionate about this subject. I know many people who have died as a result of farming accidents, as I am sure the Senator also does. I could probably name ten people who have died as a result of a careless accident, most of the time in the blink of an eye.
The difference from the pharma and construction sectors is that those areas are regulated and controlled whereas most of the time, farmers are working on their own. It is good that most of the speakers highlighted the dangers on the farm. We are having success at this, with a 27% reduction in farm accidents last year on family farms. There was a 40% reduction in accidents in the workplace, indicating that the Health and Safety Authority policies are working. There have been nine deaths this year so far. As Senator Paul Daly has said this is still far too high and we need to reduce it further. We will do our best to ensure this. As some speakers said, farmers need to take their safety into their own hands because they are working alone.
I commend Senator Paul Daly and other Senators on the keen interest they have shown in this issue which can be very emotional. As many Senators have said too many people are killed and that is a life-changing situation on the family farm. In many cases it can result in the sale of that family farm. It is also important to mention the life-changing injuries that can happen, including people losing hands, legs and other limbs. It is a serious area on which the Health and Safety Authority is working. The Government is very conscious of the matter and I am delighted it has been raised here today.
The intention behind this Bill is clearly very well motivated in seeking to set up a farm safety agency whose principal function will be to the safety, health and welfare of persons on farms and in other agricultural places of work. However, my major reservation about the Bill is that there is already in existence an Exchequer-funded State agency, the Health and Safety Authority, which already has the required statutory functions envisaged for the proposed new agency. The remit of the Health and Safety Authority is to regulate occupational safety and health in every place of work within the State, including in farms.
Ireland’s record in respect to occupational safety and health is highly thought of throughout Europe. Ireland is one of the few member states to have extended occupational safety and health legislation and the responsibilities that come with that to include the self-employed. As a large portion of Ireland's farmers are self-employed it means that all occupational safety and health legislation is effective for all farmers.
The Bill envisages establishing a farm safety agency within the present structure of the Health and Safety Authority with its own governance obligations. The Bill also imposes an obligation on to the Health and Safety Authority to consult the new agency on any proposed regulations relating to farms or agriculture.
Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, the entity responsible for the introduction of any statutory regulation is the Minister, who must be is a position to carry out this responsibility without impediment, notwithstanding the practicality of utilising any resources available to consult if so desired.As Members will know, a large portion of occupational safety and health legislation originates from the EU. The Minister needs to introduce equivalent national legislation to give effect to the EU legislation in this State. Most of the EU legislation is applicable to all places of work, which includes farms. The consultation requirement would create an anomaly whereby the Minister might ask the HSA to produce a draft transposing text, but the HSA could not respond to the Minister without having formally consulted the proposed agency on the matter. Such a scenario would create an unhelpful and unwanted additional administrative obstacle to the successful transposition by Ireland of a piece of EU legislation.
In its annual budgeting procedures, the HSA allocates funding directly to its agricultural programme. This allows the HSA to assign dedicated personnel resources to the farming sector. In addition, other inspector, educational and promotional resources within the HSA can be used to supplement the dedicated farming sector resources. As we have all seen for ourselves, the HSA maintains a significant presence at many agricultural events, including the National Ploughing Championships. I am sure Senator Paul Daly has seen the HSA's displays and exhibitions at the ploughing championships. Having been there for the past two years, I must say that the HSA's live displays, which show the dangers associated with working on farms, driving quad bikes, working on roofs and working with animals, create a lot of attention among those who are interested in seeing how accidents happen and can be prevented. Representatives of the HSA also attend the Tullamore show and the beef exhibition that is organised by Teagasc. I have been there and seen this for myself. The HSA uses such events to interact directly with the farming community and to provide practical advice and documentation, where possible. Senator Mac Lochlainn has highlighted one of the many documents on farm safety and accident prevention that are available. Such documentation can be accessed at Teagasc offices, from the HSA and from the various farming bodies throughout the country.
I have spoken about demonstrations of good farm safety practice. The results of bad farming practice are sometimes demonstrated to highlight the devastating results and effects of farm accidents on farmers and their families. One of the most poignant moments I experienced last year was at a display of the wellington boots of dead farmers and children who were killed in farm accidents. They were displayed in a line along with the names of the people who died. I suggest that anyone who sees this display will have a greater understanding of the impact of the loss of a loved one on a family farm.
Another reason I think it is unnecessary to establish a farm safety agency is the presence of the farm safety partnership advisory committee. I do not know whether Senators are aware of the existence of this long-established committee. Senator Marshall referred to the partnership committee in Northern Ireland. The committee in this jurisdiction has over 20 members, including: representatives of farm relief services; Macra na Feirme; Teagasc; the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; professional agricultural contractors, who have an important role to play; Irish Rural Link; the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association; the Irish Farmers Association; Coillte; the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association; Carlow Institute of Technology; University College Dublin; the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health's rural industries section; Veterinary Ireland; the Veterinary Council of Ireland; Agri Aware; and the HSA. The partnership committee is very active and works really well. It reports to the HSA.
As I have said, it is important that the fundamentals of the occupational safety and health legislative regime apply to all sectors of the economy, including farming. I fear that an agency exclusively dedicated to farm safety would not change or improve the situation and could dilute the impact of the HSA's current cross-sector programmes and activities. Having said that, I accept that the level of farm fatalities is excessively high. I welcome Senator Paul Daly's desire to bring about important change in this regard. When we discuss issues relating to the death or injury of a farmer or any other worker, we must be aware that we are talking about human beings. We must not sanitise the facts by referring to cold statistics without acknowledging that behind every number there is a face, a family and a community. As previous speakers have said, 200 people have lost their lives while working on Irish farms in the last ten years. We must consider the impact of these deaths on families, friends and communities, as various Senators have outlined this afternoon.
Since responsibility for occupational health and safety was passed to me in 2016, I have been alarmed at the high levels of fatalities that occur on family farms. The number was very high in 2017, when 25 people died. That is why I met the Minister, Deputy Creed, in that year. We called together a group from all areas of the agricultural family. The purpose of this gathering was to ask the community to consider the possible interventions the Government could make to improve the situation with regard to safety. I called this meeting in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Each organisation that was represented submitted suggestions, many of which overlapped or were similar. Last year, based on these suggestions, I asked representatives of various Departments to examine the suggestions to ascertain what was possible. Four specific recommendations were ultimately identified. First, it is important that there should be a requirement for farm safety training under CAP 2021. Second, dairy companies should promote farm safety training certification as part of their supply chains. Third, there is a need to ensure the HSA and the Road Safety Authority continue to work collaboratively, especially on the safety standards of agricultural tractors and quad bikes. Fourth, progress needs to be made with actions that ensure a greater use of protective head gear when driving quad bikes on family farms. All of these issues are really important.
Officials from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the HSA are working on ways to bring these policy issues into being. I will ask the HSA to use the farm safety partnership advisory committee to bring forward a new farm safety action plan as a matter of urgency. The aim of this plan will be to identify how to bring about an improved co-ordination of efforts from all stakeholders and to examine the scope for better strategic alliances. As I said earlier in this debate, during my time as Minister of State with responsibility for occupational health and safety I have found that farmers must ultimately be the main driver of cultural and behavioural change in the farming sector. Other speakers have made this point as well. Farmers must take responsibility for their own safety. In March 2017, I launched a report, Risk Taking and Accidents on Irish Farms, which was completed as part of an ESRI-HSA research programme. The report has been particularly helpful in developing a deeper understanding of the mindset of farmers. It explains why unsafe practices are occurring and what triggers risk on farms. The report highlights the significant risk associated with not getting help with difficult jobs, especially on small farms. The need to check machinery is significantly associated with accidents and near misses. Farmers on larger farms are more likely to take risks by not routinely using safety gear. The likelihood that a farmer will fail to use such gear is nearly three times as high on a larger farm of more than 100 ha than on a smaller farm of less than 20 ha.
The HSA is using knowledge transfer groups to emphasise the importance of getting help with difficult tasks on the farm. Research indicates that failing to get such assistance is associated with a higher risk of accidents and near misses. Without a change in culture and behaviour, no amount of legislative interventions will have an impact on this problem.Given the sensitive nature of the subject and the progressive spirit in which the Senators have introduced this Bill, the Government has decided that not to oppose it. However, I would add that there is a need for further scrutiny of the Bill to be carried out in terms of cost-benefit analysis and other factors. Furthermore, due to the costs associated with establishing a new agency, a money message would be required.
I thank all the Senators for their contributions to the debate today. This is a very sensitive subject. So far this year, nine people have died on Irish farms, which is far too many. Anything we can do to reduce the number of accidents on family farms is very welcome. That is why I welcome all initiatives and inputs by Senators today, particularly those of Senator Paul Daly.
I thank all my colleagues for their support today. As I said at the outset, this is such an important issue but I am a little taken aback by the Minister of State's response, to be honest. Perhaps the Minister of State had to take the approach he took but I had hoped that under the circumstances and given the topic of conversation, he would not take a defensive attitude. I was very complimentary of the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, and every other body mentioned in the Minister of State's summation. I was very complimentary of their work and was not critical of anybody, the Minister of State included. I said in my opening remarks that the numbers would be far worse were it not for the good work that is being done by a number of different agencies. That said, I did identify cracks in the system and argued that the numbers are still too high, as the Minister of State acknowledged. The reason I am proposing this Bill in its current form is to try to seal the cracks.
The Minister of State mentioned the HSA stall at the National Ploughing Championships. I ploughed at the championships in Waterford in 1983 and have attended the championships every year since then. Until I became aware of this issue, I was one of those who, on walking around the championships site in the evenings would walk by the HSA stall, thinking that it would never happen to me. Expecting people to call to the HSA is not going to work. That is why I am proposing that this agency would have a statutory and legislative footing. I acknowledge the farm safety partnership and the good advice that it gives. However, in its implementation, it is falling between the cracks. Teagasc operates on the agriculture front but if one is not a Teagasc client, one does not receive its literature. If one is not involved in the green certificate programme, one is not getting safety training from Teagasc. If one does not attend a knowledge transfer course, one does not get Teagasc training. Even if nine out of ten people are attending such courses, the one person who is not attending is still vulnerable. It is that one person who, unfortunately, has added to the figures that have been quoted here today by so many Senators.
The IFA is playing an important role, as are the ICMSA and the ICSA. They all have safety officers but not every farmer is a member of those organisations. We have NGOs that are doing fantastic work but not on a national basis so there are areas and pockets of the country that are being missed. Bord Bia is also part of this process. If a farmer applies to be quality assured, the first thing that Bord Bia does is insist that he or she erects a calving gate. I had to do that myself and it is a fantastic measure. I appreciate its value and wonder at times how I or some member of my family did not have an accident when a cow was calving before we had that gate. Had I not joined the quality assurance scheme, I probably would not have installed a calving gate. These are just a few of the many organisations that are doing great work on the back of the farm safety partnership advice. However, as I have said already, there are faults and cracks in the system and people are being missed and falling between those cracks. The issue is how we get to those people who are being missed. How do we reach those with the "it won't happen to me" attitude? They are not going to approach any of the aforementioned organisations. These people are not clients of Teagasc, they have never engaged in the green certificate programme, are not involved in knowledge transfer groups and are not members of any farm representative body. They live in areas where NGOs cannot reach them because of time, personnel and financial constraints.
I am trying to help to provide a solution. I am not being domineering or critical and I am complimentary of what has been done to date. I am here to try to solve a problem, the existence of which is undeniable. The figures, unfortunately, speak for themselves. Everybody today said that it is great to start the conversation but I want this to be more than a conversation. Having a conversation is scant consolation for those families who have been bereaved and those who have family members at home who can no longer do the work they did previously because of an accident. Everyone in here understands how the legislative system works in terms of Bills proposed by the Opposition and money messages. It is very unfortunate that the Minister of State's closing response to a debate on such a serious and concerning issue is that money is more important than the lives of our farmers, who have kept this country viable since its foundation.