October is National Safe Work Month but there’s no time like the present to address work health and safety practices, especially on farms.
According to SafeWork Australia, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in which to work. Between 2007 and 2016, 418 people died on farms – second only to the road transport industry with 439 fatalities.
Common hazards on grain and cotton farms include farm vehicles, such as tractors and quad bikes, as well as machinery and chemicals. Farmers also often work alone and in areas far from help, which increases the risk of fatality.
In South Australia alone there were 702 compensable injuries in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry during the 2015-16 financial year. Between 2016 and 2017 there were 735, and by June 2018 there was a total of 559 injuries, with further claims usually coming in for a few months after year end.
Glenn Farrell, Director of Workplace Education at SafeWork SA, said farming was a high-risk occupation with known risks and hazards to manage. “During the harvest, it is important to manage risks that can come from circumstances such as working with heavy and unguarded equipment, working long hours and working alone.” Glenn said.
Common injuries suffered by farm workers include falling from heights, tractor run-overs, farmers getting trapped in unguarded equipment and even relatively minor body stresses sustained from improper manual handling and awkward postures.
Risk of on-farm silos
Farm structures, such as grain silos, can also cause unexpected hazards.
Last November a 47 year old Eyre Peninsula man died after being crushed as a result of a silo collapse at Cocata near Wudinna.
Another silo collapse was reported to SafeWork SA on 20 June, near Mallala.
Glenn said workers should be reminded of the risks associated with grain silos on farms. “The need for regular maintenance and inspection of silos is paramount,” he said. “Risks include falls while accessing the top of silos to open or close hatches, or while checking fill levels within the silo or for maintenance work.
“There is also risk of engulfment within the silo when filling and emptying tasks occur at the same time or when damage to the silo goes undetected or unreported causing failure of the structure.”
“It is very dangerous to enter, work inside, above or beneath a silo while filling or emptying is occurring.
“Farmers also need to comply with requirements for safe working in confined spaces.”
Obligations and control measures for owners of silos include ensuring that regular silo inspection and maintenance is conducted, and where required the structural integrity of the silo is assessed by a competent person especially after extreme weather events or after impact from a vehicle.
“Farm owners can manage the risks and hazards of their work by ensuring equipment is well-maintained, workers are trained for the task and that adequate rest breaks are provided so no one works while fatigued,” Glenn said. “Harvest time is a period in which extra diligence should be exercised.
“As the work ramps up, it is even more crucial to manage the known risks of the job. I urge farmers to plan ahead, ensuring all equipment and machinery is properly safeguarded, vehicles are used appropriately, not to enter field bins or silos, stay hydrated and take regular breaks.
“A truly successful harvest is one that is injury-free.”
Preparation is crucial. In order to reduce the risk of injury on farms, SafeWork Australia advises that farmers conduct a work health and safety risk assessment on their property. Where a risk is identified, farmers should take action to eliminate or minimise those risks.
• Choose vehicles that are fit for purpose and provide the driver and any passengers with the greatest level of safety.
• Ensure machinery has the correct safety guards, that safety guards are in working order and that they are used correctly.
• Wear personal protective equipment, such as helmets, sun protection, eye protection and gloves, and require workers to do the same.
• Provide workers with information, training or instruction to protect them when using a vehicle or machinery.
• Follow storage and safety instructions for all chemicals. Keep them out of direct sunlight and ensure they are labelled correctly.
• Keep children aged under 16 years away from hazardous areas, vehicles and machinery, and chemicals.
• Do not carry passengers on quad bikes.
• When working alone, tell someone where you will be and agree on regular check-in times.
Rebates are currently available in New South Wales and Victoria to assist with the purchase of side-by-side vehicles, operator protection devices and helmets. For further information, head to safeworkaustralia.gov.au/quadwatch
For more information on how to keep farmers and farming families safe, visit safeworkaustralia.gov.au/agriculture
The Farmers’ Guidebook, produced jointly with Primary Producers SA, offers useful advice to keep farmers and rural workers safe.