Regulators urge farmers to stay safe during peak fatality months

Multiple WHS regulators have issued safety reminders and alerts to the farming sector as recent data shows March and November are peak months for workplace fatalities in agriculture, corresponding with the busy sowing and harvest seasons.

A particular risk faced by farmers during these seasons is fatigue, which can play a significant role in contributing to workplace incidents on farms.

In Victoria, two lives have been lost as a result of workplace incidents on farms already this year, taking the number of work-related deaths in agriculture to 34 since January 2020.

Farmers and farm workers who suffer serious injuries also face a long road to get back on the job, with more than 25 per cent of those injured still unable to return to farming one year on from a serious incident.

“Fatigue affects your decision making, and when your decision making is affected, not only are you affecting yourself, potentially, but the people you’re working with, who are usually family and friends,” said WorkSafe Victoria inspector, Dallas Braam, who urged farmers and farm workers to listen to their bodies and not shrug off the signs of fatigue.

“Taking a break to get hydrated, have some food, or call a friend could prevent an injury out there, and you’ll be going home to see your loved ones at the end of the day – that’s the difference.”

WorkSafe Victoria recently launched a campaign, ‘It’s never you, until it is’, which is being advertised across regional television, radio, print and digital media to offer safety solutions for farmers and encourage conversations around safety.

Every conversation about farm safety helped remove the stigma around health and safety in agriculture, said WorkSafe Victoria executive director, Narelle Beer.

“Every time a farmer or farm worker talks about farm safety, it helps to make a real difference in preventing families and communities from losing loved ones,” she said.

SafeWork NSW also reminded farmers to wear seatbelts, use helmets and choose the right vehicle when using side-by-side vehicles, quad bikes and motorcycles after a spate of incidents where people, including children, have been seriously injured or killed while using farm vehicles.

In an incident on 14 February at Coonamble, SafeWork is investigating an incident where a 37-year-old man and a four-year old suffered serious injuries when ejected from a quad bike. Initial enquiries indicate that neither was wearing a helmet.

SafeWork is currently investigating three fatalities that have occurred since the start of the year.

On 8 January in Goohli, a side-by-side vehicle being driven by an adult with two child passengers was mustering cattle when the ATV rolled into a dam, trapping and causing the death of one of the child occupants. Initial enquiries indicate that none of the occupants may have been wearing their seatbelts.

On 25 January in Narromine, a 51-year-old man died after being ejected from a moving side-by-side vehicle while undertaking farm-related work. Again, initial enquiries suggest that the seatbelt was not being worn.

On 1 February, a 32-year-old female contractor was thrown from a motorbike and suffered fatal injuries on a property 120km east of Tibooburra while not wearing a helmet.

SafeWork reminded those using side-by-side vehicles to use all available safety features, including wearing seatbelts and helmets, which will help protect operators and passengers from fatal or serious injuries in case of rollover.

Since 2001, there have been more than 56 deaths in NSW from quad-bike incidents. A further 20 people have died on side-by-side vehicles. Rollovers can occur even at low speeds and on flat terrain, leaving riders trapped or crushed under the quad bike.

“A quad bike can weigh 400 kilos and reach speeds of more than 50 kilometres per hour. They are extremely dangerous and are certainly not a machine a child under the age of 16 should ever operate or be a passenger on,” said the head of SafeWork NSW, Trent Curtin.

“The safety features on your vehicle could save your life. It is an unnecessary tragedy when workers operating vehicles with numerous safety features, including rollover protective structures and seatbelts, lose their lives by simply not wearing their seatbelt.

“Where SafeWork inspectors come across workers operating side by side vehicles not wearing seatbelts or operating quad bikes without wearing helmets or having an operator protective device fitted, they will be taking a zero-tolerance approach and issue notices and fines.”