CLARE TD Michael McNamara has spoken publicly for the first time about the death of his father, Paddy, in a farm accident in 1999.
The Scariff man was speaking in the context a farm safety competition, which he has invited Clare primary schools to participate in.
A dry stock farmer himself, the Labour TD said the fatal accident had a profound effect on him and his family. “It was an awful shock. Like every other family this has happened to, you always think it will happen to someone else. He was caught between a transport box and a tractor. He was very well known in farming circles here in Clare,” Deputy McNamara said.
According to the most recent Health Safety Authority (HSA) figures, since 2010, seven people have died in farm accidents in the county, which includes two deaths last year.
The HSA say the most vulnerable groups on any farm are children under the age of 18 and those over the age of 65 years. Nationally, in 2014, 33% of people who died on farms were over the age of 65, while 17% were under 18; 50% of fatalities were in the 18-65 year bracket, while 60% of all work-related accidents last year were on farms, the highest rate of fatal injuries in any major economic group.
“There has been an increase in the number of accidents and, as a farmer myself, it’s something that I’m very aware of. I held a meeting earlier this year for farmers trying to explain the Basic Payment System, as it is now called and there was a farm safety element to that. One of the things that was stressed was that the two most at-risk groups are children and the elderly. The obvious place, if you want to change the attitudes of young people, is in school,” Deputy McNamara said.
He says people he knows are sometimes very relaxed about farm safety. “I have a cousin with an open slurry pit and young children. Every time I see him I say ‘you need to cover that pit or you might live to regret it sometime’. He agrees with me that it needs to be covered but I suppose something else gets in the way. You think it will never happen yourself until it does,” Deputy McNamara reflected, adding that that older farmers are particularly slow to change their ways.
“When it comes to older people, maybe they don’t change behaviour. They have acquired a way of doing something and that’s the way they do it. Then, when it comes to children, who are often the victims of farm accidents, they play in areas that sometimes aren’t safe. Farms are play areas as well as everything else. I grew up on a farm and I had a large group of friends that I distinctly remember coming out from Scariff to play during the summer holidays. You’d have a shed full of hay, you’d be jumping around and having bales fall on you. It was great craic but that was when bales were square bales. Now, if a round bale falls on you, you have a problem. You’d almost throw a square bale on someone for fun,” he said.
“In my own lifetime, I’ve seen a huge change in the size and the power of the machinery that is being used. Tractors that would have been considered very big when I was a child are now tiny little things, compared to the tractors that are being used now. They do have greater safety measures built into them but you are talking about hydraulic power that the human body doesn’t have any chance against,” he stated.
Deputy McNamara also pointed out that farm animals can be potentially very dangerous.
“Very recently, a man in East Clare had a very narrow escape from a cow. He nearly lost his life. I saw it as a child myself; an otherwise very quiet cow, when she has a calf, can completely change. Then you have bulls and you never really know what a bull is going to do. We had a bull who never posed a threat but we sold him on and he nearly killed someone,” he revealed.
It is difficult to calculate the number of serious injuries on farms each year, as many farmers don’t realise they are supposed to report an incident to the HSA. The HSA estimates serious injuries at 2,000 a year. Of those injured, 67% are unable to work between 10 to 100 days and 85% have to attend A&E.
Deputy McNamara is inviting third and fourth class pupils to identify a potential danger on farms and design a sign, warning others of this danger.
“We hope this competition will make children think about farm safety ahead of their summer holidays and not only make the children safety aware but help them to bring the message home,” he said. The closing date is May 29.