A renewed focus is being placed on work health and safety (WHS) outcomes in the farming sector. This drive, supported by a number of WorkCover authorities across the country, has come after a Safe Work Australia report revealed employee fatalities rates are highest in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry.

The Work-related Traumatic Fatalities: Australia 2014 report, released on July 15, found that almost one in four (19 per cent) of the total occupational deaths recorded in 2013 involved workers in the agricultural sector alone. This industry accounted for 37 of the 191 fatalities in Australia last year.

With a fatality rate of 15.11 deaths per 100,000 workers, it is easy to see why health and safety initiatives are so crucial for employers in this industry. This is nine times the national rate of 1.64 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

As many of the deaths in this industry and other sectors were related to vehicles, a particular effort should be made to access traffic management training for all employees. In particular, approximately 66 per cent of all fatalities over the past 11 years involved a vehicle, with one-third of workers killed in collisions on public roads and one-third in incidents on site. 

Work-related injuries and fatalities in Australia

Overall, WHS training and initiatives seem to be making an impact as total fatalities across all industries fell to the lowest rate in 11 years.

In 2013, 191 workers were killed through an incidents related to their employment, compared with 228 in 2012 and significantly lower than the highest figure of the past decade (311 fatalities in 2007).

Despite this decline, Safe Work Australia Acting Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter reminds workers and employers that health and safety should remain a priority.

"While we have seen a 16 per cent reduction in work-related deaths since 2012, this does not mean workers should become complacent about reducing and eliminating risks while working," she said. 

Beyond the fatalities reported in the agriculture industry, 46 people died in the transport, postal and warehousing sector, followed by 19 construction-related deaths. Additionally, 66 bystanders and members of the public were killed due to work-related activity in 2013.

This shows that WHS policies still have a long way to go in these particular industries, and employers need to remain vigilant in regards to worker health and safety.

Farm safety improving in Victoria

While the number of fatalities in Australia's agricultural sector increased last year, total farm-related injury claims in Victoria fell by approximately 14 per cent – reaching the lowest rate in a decade. This is according to figures released on July 16 by the Victorian WorkCover Authority.

In 2013, 401 farmers and employees made a workers compensation claim, which is down from 467 claims in 2012. However, the industry still presents a significant number of risks to workers. This is shown by tallying the number of fatalities (53) and injuries (4,600) on Victorian farms over the past 10 years.

"A farm is just like any other workplace, and farmers need to ensure the same proactive approach to safety is adopted," said Victorian WorkCover Authority Executive Director of Health and Safety Len Neist.

Mr Neist expressed concern at the more than 400 injuries claims that occurred last year. He explained that although reports are at their lowest in 10 years, it is vital that those working on farms remain "vigilant when it comes to workplace safety".

In particular, Mr Neist urges farmers and workers to avoid taking on tasks for which they are not trained, as this commonly leads to accidents and errors that caused injuries.

"Specialised services should always be engaged in work which is outside of the farmers' expertise or knowledge," he said.

Farmer health and safety initiative launched in NSW

Over the past three years, close to 5,500 NSW farmers have sustained injuries that required claims on workers compensation, according to WorkCover NSW.

Because of this, the authority has developed a new farm safety initiative designed to improve awareness of the hazards in the industry. The program was launched by the NSW Minister for Finance and Services Dominic Perrottet at the 2014 NSW Farmers Conference on July 15.

WorkCover NSW has teamed up with individuals across the industry to help farmers stay alive and well by offering them a hub to share and experience stories of accidents, injuries and deaths on farms.

"The NSW agricultural industry is one of the state's largest and most important industries, contributing $11.7 billion in revenue," Mr Perrottet said.

"It is also one of the State's highest risk industries, recording 5,465 injuries and illnesses, including seven fatalities over the three years to July 2012. As the high number of injuries show, it is important that everyone out on the farm works more closely together to improve safety."

The website, aliveandwell.net.au, serves as a place for farmers to share their stories about accidents and incidents from their past. By promoting awareness and offering personalised advice, these individuals can help boost the safety and wellbeing of others in their industry.

"By using these real-life stories of farmers to highlight the devastating impact they can have, we hope it leads to more farms improving safety," Mr Perrottet explained.

"Importantly, the stories show that it doesn't have to be expensive or complicated to keep everyone on the farm safe."

With a number of guides and channels of support available through the initiative, workers can benefit from checking out the site and searching for the specific injuries or hazards they may face.

For instance, an advice and support page shares a range of links to industry authorities, educational videos and fact sheets to increase awareness of the help available.

Improving WHS outcomes

The agriculture industry records high rates of vehicle-related deaths, as well slips, trips and falls – which accounted for 22 per cent of the total injuries.

A range of factors can result in serious safety issues, including unguarded machinery and untidy workshops, as well as poorly stored chemicals creating hazards in confined spaces. Additionally, inattention when manoeuvring vehicles is a significant WHS risk.

"The key to keeping farm work safe is effective planning and using the right equipment for the job," said Mr Neist.

"It's important that if you are heading out on the tractor for the day, or fencing in the back paddock, to let someone know where you'll be."

In lights of the approaching National Farm Safety Week, which runs from 21–25 July 2014, Mr Neist offered a range of helpful tips to help boost safety in the agriculture industry. The advice includes:

  • Always communicate to someone where you will be
  • Ensure machinery is well maintained and switched off when undergoing repairs
  • Engage specialists for work you are not trained to complete
  • Always follow manufacturers standards when operating machinery or storing chemicals
  • Be aware of fumes and hazardous chemicals
  • Stay vigilant when operating or working near vehicles

How AlertForce can help

To achieve improved health and safety outcomes, it is important to ensure all employees have access to the right training, supervision and knowledge.

In particular, WHS training relevant to agriculture industry can vastly reduce the chance of inadequate policies and procedures resulting in an accident, injury or death. This includes working at heights, confined spaces and traffic management training.

For more information on any of our occupational health and safety courses, get in touch with the AlertForce team today. We can offer nationally recognised training and qualifications relevant to most high-risk industries, including agriculture, forestry and fishing.

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