If there is one thing that puts the fear of God in me and makes me feel as though a steel hand is squeezing my heart so I can’t breathe, it is the fear, for a split second, that every so often hits me, the fear that something might hurt, maim or even worse, kill my children. I remember when W was less than 2, I was pregnant with K and wheeling him around in a Superquinn trolley in the vegetable section, an elderly lady admired him and during the conversation asked me if I knew that he was special. I laughed saying ‘but of course he is special to me’ meaning that every mother thinks her child is special even if everyone else thinks they are really ugly / naughty / obnoxious – I was perfectly aware that others might think my child was ugly. She understood my tone and shook her head saying ‘He really is special’, which was lovely to hear but for some reason scared me – what if he was special and that meant something would happen to him. Daft I know, but as a mum (and an over protective one at that), just like other mums, I would prefer to die myself than have anything happen to my kids.
Living on a farm has so many dangers and I am so conscious of that. We can’t wrap our kids in cotton wool and put them in a glass cage, everytime we go out on the road, there is a risk that something might happen, yet it seems a farm is one of the most dangerous places to work and so many families live right beside them. We have a safety statement so dangers are avoided and highlighted so they can be prevented. The children’s play area is in the garden and the yard is fenced off from it. If they go up the yard, they know they have to tell us first. Both of them have always been fairly responsible and sensible. But sometimes, accidents happen. I think back to my own childhood and I know there was a few occasions where I was lucky and I’m sure these happen on a lot of farms. ?It was only this year that a freshly calved heifer looked like she was going to charge at me and I got out of the calving pen very quickly – a puck from her head would have sent me against the wall or the rack. ?We become complacent working with cows as they are generally quiet and placid. However, we underestimate their strength and their power if they become protective over a calf or decide to attack for some bizarre reason.
There have been 12 deaths so far on Irish farms this year (according to the Farming Independent on 3rd June). 7 of those were 55 and over. ?Most were caused by machinery although there were two deaths caused by livestock. There seems to be more and more deaths from slurry fumes too – the silent killer. ?There was one toddler, my heart goes out to the poor parents – how on earth would you get over that sorrow? To walk into your yard every day and remember the accident – words can’t even describe the anguish it must cause. ?There have been 96 deaths since the beginning of 2010 – that’s 96 families.
What can be done about it? Farming is one of the most dangerous professions. Farmers know the risks, sometimes it can be due to tiredness or needing more speed. We have been having brilliant weather here in Ireland for the last few days. I’d say every meadow has been cut for silage or hay in the country. How many contractors worked really long hours over the last week though? Probably starting at 9 am and working till 3am with short breaks for meals? They will do it knowing that they will sleep when the rain comes or when all the silage is in, whichever comes first.
Sometimes accidents are just one of those things. A fall that should not have been fatal, except there was a stone where the person’s head struck. Of course, sometimes lives are saved by just one of those things too – that an inch this way or that way saved a life. Wrong place, wrong time or a case of being very very lucky, sometimes split seconds or mere inches make all the difference.
According to the Farming Indo, we need more hard-hitting safety messages to really get the message across to farmers. There’s too many people thinking ‘it won’t happen to me’.
For those who do lose a loved one, it’s a very difficult time. We think of the grief and the sorrow but there’s a practical side to it too. ?If the landowner / herdowner died and it was solely in his/her name (usually the man) and his wife didn’t have her name on the bank account, it can mean that everything is frozen – bank account, SFP payments, herd number, cattle can’t be sold, effectively the farm is frozen and she has no income – it can be a very difficult situation and it really highlights the need for wills and for farms to be in joint names for couples.
Embrace Farm has been set up, both to remember those we have lost, comfort those who remain, highlight farm safety and to help those left behind as well as advising on the practical nature of precautions. Brian Rohan and his wife Norma have set up Embrace Farm and are organising a church service which takes place next Sunday at 2pm in Abbeyleix – to remember those who have been lost. ?Although there is some support there for families who lose someone from suicide, for example, until now, there has been no dedicated support mechanism as such for those who have lost a loved one through a farming accident. Apart from the comfort of speaking to someone who has also gone through it, there is the practical help and hopefully it will raise awareness of the reality of farm dangers too.
Every year, there are about 2,500 non fatal accidents on farms. Some of these are life-changing in that a limb may have been removed. I recently met a gentleman working with farmers who need modification on their farms following the loss of a limb. @AgrAbilityIrl can design new milking parlours to providing gadgets to help with getting dressed. It’s good to know that this is available but I hope less and less are needed.
I’m planning to go to the service in Abbeyleix this Sunday. Do let me know if you are going too.