On January 2, the National Farmers' Federation declared that 2014 would be the International Year of Family Farming.

"We look forward to working with our members, farmers and all within agriculture to celebrate the International Year of Family Farming this year," said Brent Finlay, president of the National Farmers' Federation.

Mr Finlay added the industry body would be working hard in 2014 to develop its highly anticipated Blueprint for Australian Agriculture, which is hoped will shape the future of this vital sector for many years to come.

Australia's agriculture industry

In Australia, the agriculture industry is one of the most affluent sectors. There are currently 134,000 farms across the country, according to the National Farmers' Federation, and 99 per cent of them are owned and operated by families.

The latest facts and figures also show that a whopping 307,000 people are directly employed in the agriculture industry. When those who are indirectly employed by the sector are taken into consideration, this number jumps to 1.6 million people.

It's not only a major employer, however. The agriculture industry also injects a huge amount of money into the Australian economy each year. As of 2010-11, the sector is worth just under $49 billion ($48.7, to be exact) and accounts for 3 per cent of the country's total GDP.

In addition to this, exports from Australia's farms earn around $32.5 billion each year.

However, Australia's agriculture industry has a dark side. In fact, it's one of the country's most dangerous sectors in terms of fatalities.

A report published by Safe Work Australia shows that between 2003 and 2011, a shocking 356 workers died while performing tasks on a farm. This equates to 17 per cent of all fatalities that occurred in Australia's workforce during this period.

Safe Work Australia's report also reveals that one-third of fatalities in the agriculture sector occur among workers aged 65 years and over.

What's costing so many workers their lives?

As is the case with all workplaces in the country, farms come with a unique set of hazards that workers must contend with.

One of the biggest hazards, and ultimately the cause of most work-related deaths of farms, is vehicles. A whopping 71 per cent of fatalities that occurred during the eight-year period covered by the report were a direct result of accidents involving vehicles.

A total of 93 people (26 per cent) lost their lives as a result of accidents involving tractors, while 48 people (13 per cent) were killed in accidents involving aircraft.

Safe Work Australia also states that light vehicles were responsible for 28 people's deaths and accidents involving quad bikes led to the work-related deaths of 27 people.

Aside from vehicles, 18 people died as a result of a bite or being hit by an animal, 11 people were killed after falling from a horse and 9 people were accidently shot by their fellow workers.

What's being done to change these figures?

It's clear from the above statistics that vehicles are one of the deadliest pieces of equipment in farms. That's why FarmSafe Australia has made educating people about the dangers associated with them a priority.

John Temperley, executive officer of FarmSafe Australia, explained in a December 30 statement the industry body has been working on a number of programs to help people understand best practices when it comes to operating vehicles.

"One of our most successful programs was promoting tractor safety," said Mr Temperley.

"We had evidence that farmers were dying from tractor rollovers, so we asked state governments to subsidise the retro fitment of rollover protection structures (ROPS) on older tractors that didn't have cabins."

He added that a disturbing number of children are also run over by vehicles on farms, and creating a "safe play area for children" to prevent them getting in the way of vehicles is a good idea.

The latest FarmSafe Symposium, held in November 2013, also put a spotlight on quad bikes. A number of delegates from the University of New South Wales attended the event and discussed their current research into the stability of quad bikes and how effective crush protection devices on these vehicles are.

Rex Hoy, chief executive officer of Safe Work Australia, said that "improving farm safety and, in particular, quad bike safety requires a concerted effort from all parties".

What can you do?

As an employer or worker in the agriculture industry, you also have a responsibility to take precautions and keep yourself and others safe while performing tasks.

Here are a just a few ways you can make your farm a safer place to work:

– Keep an eye out for any new hazards that may arise on the farm and take steps to mitigate these as soon as humanly possible.
– Make sure all employees and visitors are well-versed in your farm's safety procedures, so they know what to do if an emergency arises.
– Try not to head out and perform tasks alone on your farm. It's a good idea to either bring another person with your or make sure you can contact someone / are able to be contacted if you get into trouble.
– Get OHS training. This will provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to create a risk management strategy and perform the actions it outlines if and when required.

For more information about the types of OHS training that are available for workers in the agriculture industry, get in touch with AlertForce today!