Disturbing figures highlight danger of farm work

A REPORT released by Safe Work Australia today has found one in six workers killed in Australia were working on a farm. The report monitored statistics over an eight year period until June 30, 2011.

In announcing the key findings of the Work-related injuries and fatalities on Australian farms report the Safe Work Australia chair, Ann Sherry, AO, said the figure was staggering considering only 3% of workers were employed in the agriculture sector.

"On average 44 farm workers are killed each year and another 17,400 suffer a work-related injury," Ms Sherry said.

"This is a significant number of injuries and deaths occurring within the agriculture sector.

"While the statistics themselves are alarming, they don't reflect the many more families, work colleagues and communities who are affected by a farm-related fatality or injury.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Vehicles accounted for nearly three quarters of work-related fatalities on farms.
  • In the eight years of the study 93 workers died while using a tractor. Half of these workers were aged 65 years and over one-third of the deaths involved a rollover.
  • Aircraft incidents while undertaking tasks such as mustering or crop dusting claimed the lives of 48 workers.
  • Quad bikes were involved in 27 fatalities of which 20 were due to a rollover.
  • Almost one-third of work-related fatalities on Australian farms involved workers aged 65 years or over. This is nearly three times the proportion the age group represents of all worker fatalities in Australian workplaces.
  • Young farm workers had more hospitalisations for a motorbike or horse-related incident while older workers had more hospitalisations from contact with machinery.
  • Only half of Australian agriculture workers are covered by workers' compensation as 46% are self-employed. The report showed that nearly one in four workers' compensation claims were due to working with animals, one in five were from working with mobile plant and transport including motorbikes and nearly one in five were from working with non-powered tools and equipment.

Safe Work Australia has identified the agriculture sector as one of its priorities under the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022 and is working with regulators, industry, unions and the farming community to find practical and cost effective ways to reduce the hazards farmers and their workers face on a daily basis. This might include incentives from regulators to adopt safer plant and increased awareness raising activities in this sector.

Examples of risks and hazards being addressed at the national level in the farming sector are use of quad bikes and labelling of pesticides. Quad bike safety is being addressed through consultation on the fitting of crush protection devices to quad bikes and restricting the use of quad bikes by children.

Recent changes to pesticide labelling requirements introduced under the new harmonised Work Health and Safety Regulations will bring greater consistency with labels of hazardous workplace chemicals in other sectors. This change aims to bring greater awareness of the hazards of farm chemicals and result in improved safety outcomes from chemical handling on farms.

Work health and safety regulators across Australia are also working to improve work health and safety in the agriculture section and reduce these alarming statistics.

Topics:  farm safety occupational health and safety safe work australia

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