This week is National Farm Safety Week, which aims to raise awareness of farm safety issues in rural communities. Sadly, we see too many fatalities and serious injuries happen on Australian farms each year, explains Attwood Marshall Lawyers Compensation Law Partner, Jeremy Roche.
Farm work offers one of the most unique lifestyle experiences for all ages. The agriculture sector employs around 320,000 workers throughout Australia. Being able to live and work in the same place is a wonderful opportunity. However, with agriculture ranked as the second most dangerous industry to work in, there is a lot that needs to be done to improve the work, health and safety practices in this area.
When it comes to fatalities, Victoria recorded the highest number of deaths from January to June 2020, followed closely by Queensland and New South Wales. The main cause of farm fatalities was quad bikes, followed by tractors and utes.
Although the risk of injury, or worse, is significantly higher for over 50s people working on a farm, those under the age of 15 are also significantly at risk. It is important for everyone to embrace the conversation during National Farm Safety Week regarding how we can make Australian farms a safer place to live and work.
National Farm Safety Week 2021
National Farm Safety Week runs from 18th – 24th July and is an initiative promoted by Farmsafe Australia to help raise awareness of farm safety issues in rural communities.
Farmsafe Australia is a national non-for-profit entity, advocating for farmers.
Health and safety in the agriculture and farm industry presents unique challenges. While the farming industry shares similar hazards to other industries, such as the risks associated with exposure to plants, chemicals, dust, noise, the environment and sun, and the risks that come with working with animals, there are additional risks associated with the remote locations and isolation that makes this industry one of the most dangerous to work in Australia.
It’s not just the physical risks that increase for those involved in the farming industry, but also the mental health impacts and psychological injuries that are widely underreported with many sufferers remaining silent.
Safe Work Australia has reported that:
- Of all the agriculture fatalities recorded in 2016, 85% of fatalities occurred on a farm
- Farmers aged 50 years or older account for 50% of all Australian farming fatalities;
- Nearly one in five (15%) of fatalities on a farm are children under the age of 15 who were not actively supervised;
- Psychological risks such as high work demands, isolation, bullying, and having little control over weather or the market can cause significant high levels of stress, depression, and burnout.
Stevie Howdle, Executive Officer at Farmsafe Australia has said that our next generation of farmers are energetic, eager to learn and excited to ‘do the doing’. This is something that should be celebrated. But with this excitement also comes responsibility.
“As current leaders of Australian agriculture, our role is to take the time to teach our people safe ways to get any job done,” said Mr Howdle.
“We should encourage them to ask questions more frequently, guide them in a way that builds professional confidence and a repertoire of diverse experiences, all while ensuring they feel comfortable to request assistance. We are role models to this high learning age group, especially when it comes to acceptable workplace culture, and instilling safety in every aspect of farming life will almost guarantee success in the future.”
This is a week to spark conversation about adopting effective risk management strategies and safer farming practices to protect all farmers and their families now and into the future.
Mental Health & Resilience of our Farmers
There is no doubt that Australia’s farmers are some of the most resilient people in the country. From facing drought, to bushfires, floods, and pandemics, our farmers are in a constant state of survival.
Unfortunately, farmer suicide rates are on the rise and there are very few statistics available to truly reflect just how severe the problem has become since the COVID-19 pandemic added to the list of challenges for farmers.
In Queensland, farmers are more than twice as likely than the general population to take their own lives, with the suicide rate rising to five times that of non-farmers in extremely remote parts of the state.
To help combat suicide rates in rural communities, The Resilience Project delivers emotionally engaging programs to provide evidence-based, practical wellbeing strategies to build resilience. As part of their mission, they focus on programs to support the mental health of those living and working in rural communities.
“Mental health in rural communities is a huge issue,” confirms Martin Heppell, Partner and Facilitator at The Resilience Project.
“As well as the many stressors these people face, there’s still a social stigma about talking about mental health issues, particularly amongst men. This means they are less likely to tell others how they are feeling or seek help from a professional.”
For those who do try and seek professional help, it isn’t easy to come by. For every $1 spent per capita on Medicare mental health services in major cities, just 10c is spent in very remote areas, according to the CRRMH. In major cities 668 people per 1000 have spoken to their GP about their mental health, whereas in rural and remote areas it’s only 241. It’s no wonder that since 2011 suicide rates have risen more sharply in rural communities than in urban areas.
There has been a call for a significant focus on rural mental health assistance for farmers and their families. The pressures of farm living are extreme and we need to help our farmers to ensure their mental health is always a priority throughout these challenging times.
Children at risk
Almost one in five (15%) of fatalities on Australian farms are children who are under the age of 15, with an average of 575 children hospitalized each year in Australia as a result of farm related injuries. In more than 56% of cases, it is reported that children had no active supervision by an adult at the time they were involved in the incident.
The major causes of deaths to children on farms are:
- Drowning, which accounts for the greatest number of deaths of children on farms, particularly children 0-4 years of age
- Tractors are the second single major cause of child death, with toddlers being most at risk
- Fatal injuries associated with farm vehicles, motorcycles and ATVs
The most common causes of hospital admission of children with farm injuries include:
- Motorcycle and ATV accidents
- Farm vehicle incidents
- Horse-related injuries
Vehicles such as utes, trailers and ATVs where children often ride unrestrained on the back are a particular risk and evidence shows this is a leading cause for child fatalities and serious injuries. While ATVs are involved in fewer injuries, they tend to be associated with a higher proportion of more serious injury such as head injuries and crush injuries.
Child safety on farms is a key issue needing attention. The development of all farm safety programs should consider farm visitors and residents to reduce the risk of any more children losing their lives on Australia farms.
Farmsafe Australia launches new strategic direction
In March 2021, Farmsafe Australia released its National Farm Safety Education Fund Strategy aimed at significantly reducing injuries and fatalities in the agriculture and farming industry by 2030.
The strategy calls for collaborative industry action across a range of work, health and safety impact opportunities.
The below key impact opportunities have been identified as targets for further investment:
- Leadership and cultural change
- The next generation of farmers
- Physical and psychological wellbeing
- Industry endorsed training and continued learning
- Evidence and incentivization
“There is no denying that agriculture needs to change its relationship to work health and safety practices. Not only is legislation demanding it, but our people are much too important to allow the culture of ‘she’ll be right mate’ to prevail,” said Farmsafe Australia Chairman Charles Armstrong.
The Australian Government has dedicated a further $1.6M in funding for farm safety over the next 3 years.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – supporting farmers and their families through injury or illness
It is our intent to help people and change their lives for the better. This applies to farming families and workers who have suffered a death or serious injury. It is our goal to ensure you receive the treatment you need if you have been injured on the job so that you can get on with your life. We also obtain any compensation you may be entitled to which provides financial security for your future.
Our lawyers and staff are experienced in acting for farm workers and families in these stressful situations and will guide you through the process. If you have been injured or suffered a workplace illness, you may also be able to make a claim on your Superannuation TPD insurance cover.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers can help you every step of the way. We offer free, no obligation initial consultations by telephone or in person so that you can find out where you stand from the start. Contact our Compensation Law Department on 1800 621 071 for a free, no-obligation initial consultation.