Belfast Telegraph

Scant appetite for a new raft of farm safety laws

By Linda Stewart

Farmers have been warned that children should never be allowed into buildings where slurry is being mixed.

Ulster Farmers' Union vice president Barclay Bell also warned that farmers should evacuate the building once they begin mixing slurry in case people are overcome by the toxic gases.

"The Health and Safety Executive has issued a lot of good practice for farmers and part of that would be the creation of a designated area in the farmyard which is secure, meaning that children could still go out in the farmyard but would be in a safe place," he said.

Detectors and gas monitors do have their uses in combating slurry gas, he added, but the main thing is to get out once the mixing machinery starts operating.

Mr Bell admitted, however, that it could be difficult to bring in laws aimed at making farms safer for children.

"It does go back to the fact that a farm is a home and it's also part of a business," he said. "We have to change the mindset of farmers. I think through best practice and the work of the Farm Safety Partnership we will see change without having to go down any other route."

According to rural insurers NFU Mutual, Northern Ireland accounted for the company's highest level of claim payouts for farm accidents in any region of the UK last year – representing 19% of the total payout across the UK.

"Our hearts go out to the families involved in this tragic accident," spokesman Tim Price said.

"As the main insurer of Northern Ireland's farms and a member of the Northern Ireland Farm Safety Partnership, we are all too aware of the risks of slurry gases and urge all farmers to take extreme care when working near slurry and to follow best practice advice.

"While we can't comment on the weekend's tragedy, the fact that 15% of farm accident fatalities in Northern Ireland are caused by slurry gas shows that the need for extreme care cannot be overstated.

"When the full facts of this tragic accident are known, we will be working with fellow members of the Farm Safety Partnership to see if any lessons can be learned to try and prevent similar terrible events in the future."

The Health and Safety Executive said its legislation requires that children should be prevented from gaining access to dangerous areas without suitable adult supervision.

Agriculture committee chair Paul Frew said that while he wouldn't rule anything out that could save lives, it would be very difficult to enforce the same kind of legislation on farms that are seen in the building industry.

"The problem I have is that in a farm setting, whilst they do have contractors, the majority of workplaces are family places and homes," he said.

"If a member of your family was on the other side of a farm and saw you collapse in a barn, nine times out of 10 that family member will come in to try and save you – human nature plays a major role.

"We have to keep on raising awareness until it sinks into every single person," he added. "I am open to any suggestions."

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