We should all be aware that despite all the good work done by WorkSafe and other Health and Safety organisations, the farm remains one of the most hazardous workplaces.
Farm Safety is About Real People
These aren’t just statistics – they are real people, real farming families – and the scary thing is that they don’t even account for the 2,300 plus farm families impacted by serious farm accidents each year. The fact that there are very few of us who don’t know of someone impacted by farm accidents shows us the scale of the challenge. It also shows that they occur all over the country, across all sectors, and that neither young nor old are immune to the potential dangers – over 40% of farm fatalities have involved children or older farmers.
“It Won’t Happen to Me”
The consensus viewed by most of us is that the farm is a giant playground and a place of residence, the diverse workload (often completed alone and under time pressure) and the fact that few farmers ever really retire, explain in part why the rate of agricultural-related fatalities is far higher than any other economic sector. But does it really get to the heart of the issue? Does it justify why the level of farm accidents is so reluctant to decline or why similar accidents occur year after year on Australian farms?
The simple answer is no, and to improve requires collective effort and acceptance by us all that a farm accident can happen on any farm.
Don’t Take Chances
Chances are often taken as a result. And whether it’s getting into the pen with a freshly calved cow, not turning off the PTO when dealing with a blockage or making sure the handbrake is on and all brakes/lights working, the outcome can be fatal. I’m not in any way trying to paint a picture of negligence on the part of the farmer. Instead, I’m hoping to point out that sometimes familiarity leads to complacency and because we are so familiar with our surroundings, and our activities, we fail to see the wood from the trees.
And it’s not just the obvious things that we need to be conscious of. It’s the smaller or more trivial things where in hindsight we’d say, ‘I should have fixed that weeks ago’ or ‘What was I thinking of going so fast on the quad?’.
If you speak to anyone about farm accidents, very often the bull or the uncovered PTO shaft comes to mind. But combined, they account for less than 5% of farm fatalities. Nearly three times more have died from falls on farms and five times more after being crushed by farm machinery.
Small Changes Will Make a Huge Difference
Managing safety on our farms is our own personal responsibility and should be a constant in our daily farm activities. Not just for our own safety, but that of our families, employees and visitors to our farm.
Some Practical Farm Safety Tips
- Before acting in haste, stop and reflect on potential outcomes of your action. A second spared is better than a lifetime lost.
- Identify hazards and take remedial action as necessary – complete a Farm Safety Risk Assessment document for your farm.
- Tidy up the physical farm environment like the yards, buildings, storage sheds. This gives you greater control of your work environment.
- Schedule your work activities to manage time and labour effectively. This offers you some scope to deal with unforeseen circumstances and gives you the opportunity to consider the safety issues which may arise at the outset.
- Consider the space you are working in and ask whether it’s suitable. Assess the hazards it presents and consider whether they can be managed. Don’t just make do.
- Get adequate rest – use contractors and additional workers where needed.
- Let someone know your plans for the day. This way they have an early warning indicator if you don’t return at the planned time.
- Take care where children and elderly people are on the farm. Children don’t have the same ability as adults to analyse situations and make appropriate decisions. And as we age, our ability to manage the same workload and our responsiveness diminish.
Act Now, Not Regret Later
As the silage and harvesting and breeding season approaches, it’s important that we are all particularly aware to the potential dangers on our own farms, and that we act at an early stage to avoid becoming another statistic.
Ensuring safety controls are in place and in working order may cost a few dollars – but can you really afford not to? The financial cost of injury is significant when you consider lost time days at work, additional paid labour and, in many cases, family members taking time off from their own jobs to support the farm. There are also financial implications from reduced or ceased farm operations following more debilitating farm injuries.