Teenagers with nothing more than a theory test are legally allowed to drive powerful farm machinery and a review is urgently needed, a Fine Gael Senator has warned.
As the Health and Safety Authority begins its two-week inspection campaign, Cork Senator Tim Lombard has called for road safety laws to be updated to prioritise the safety of all farm workers and the wider community.
Senator Lombard said: “We have a situation in this country where 16-year-olds can do a theory test and then drive a tractor that can do 50km per hour with a load of more than 20 tonnes behind it.
“That is absolutely ridiculous. We have laws in this land that are for a different previous age.
“To really make a change when it comes to farm safety and to really change what is happening on our family farms, we need to make hard and somewhat unpopular decisions.
“I am calling for far stricter road safety laws when it comes to tractors and all farm machinery.
“We need to move forward and to look at changing the process because what we have done in the past decade has failed.
“I’ll be working closely with newly appointed Minister with responsibility for Farm Safety, Martin Heydon, on addressing this. Appointing the first Farm Safety Minister demonstrates Fine Gael’s commitment in this area.”
Senator Lombard continued: “The HSA has said that between 2010 and 2019, there were 65 deaths due to tractors and farm vehicles, while there were 39 farm machinery deaths.
“Tractors and machinery account for the highest proportion of farm deaths and injuries in Ireland, with elderly farmers and children at particular risk.
“Furthermore, some 40% of all fatalities in workplaces happen in an agricultural setting, even though the sector comprises only 5% of the overall workforce.
“This is a blight on our communities and on our society. It is about not only the people who are dying but about the families who are left behind.
“I have seen two fatalities in my locality in the past six weeks. We need to have major change because what has been done in the past decade has not been successful.”
Senator Lombard continued: “A Seanad Public Consultation Committee debated farm safety. We need to do the same again and to get the key principals and key actors around the table, whether health and safety or the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and deliver on it.
“If one looks at the basics, we are paying 23% VAT on farm safety material. This must change.
“Farm Safety Week is coming up but we can’t just talk about this topic for one week. The statistics show this has not worked.
“We need a cultural change where safety is the number one priority on every farm in the country and new practices to help implement this.
“I am committed to pioneering farm safety in the new Seanad and will work tirelessly on this incredibly important issue,” Senator Lombard concluded.