Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Death of eight-year-old Robert Christie is a tragic reminder of farm danger

Robert Christie on his toy tractor at home
Robert Christie on his toy tractor at home

The countryside on a sunny summer day can appear to be the perfect idyll, but many dangers lurk within the farming industry. There is the danger from the wide range of high-powered machinery used by farmers, the possibility of attack by livestock or, as has been illustrated so tragically once again, the silent killer of slurry gases.

It is easy to imagine how eight-year-old Robert Christie was excited by the prospect of helping out with his dad on a neighbouring farm near Dunloy. It was a scene played out countless times on farms throughout Northern Ireland, but on this occasion it all went so horribly wrong.

Little Robert died after apparently inhaling the gases from a slurry tank and his father remains critically ill in hospital. What a nightmare for Mrs Christie as she mourns the loss of her child and prays for the recovery of her husband.

The incident will be thoroughly investigated and Government and the farming industry already have been working hard to prevent such incidents. Yet the dangers remain.

We are reminded today of how three members of the Spence family, rugby star Nevin, his father Noel and brother Graham, died in a similar tragedy in September 2012. While it is sometimes easy to identify risk, it can be very difficult to eliminate it.

The farming union and farmers themselves are well aware of the potential dangers in their industry, but given the range of the tasks they perform on a daily basis they know that a moment of inattention can be fatal.

Slurry tanks are particular areas of danger. The gases, which can kill in a few moments, have no smell, and meters to identify their presence can be unreliable.

Of course, this latest tragedy will once again raise awareness of this danger. Yet, as has been shown, even experienced farmers can become victims.

It is particularly heart-rending that such a young, happy-go-lucky little boy should die in these circumstances doing something he loved.

His death must make everyone redouble their efforts to make our farms safer.

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