Australia: Top 10 tips to improve farm safety

According to Queensland Government figures, only 3% of Queenslanders work on farms but they account for nearly 30% of workplace deaths. This alarming statistic highlights the long road ahead in improving safety on Australian farms.

As workplace health and safety lawyers, we see our fair share of farm safety incidents and have seen the operational, legal and emotional toll they take. This week, during National Farm Safety Week, we thought we would share our top tips for improving safety in farming and agribusiness operations.

  1. Forget 'she'll be right mate'. Safety comes first

    Our culture is famous for its 'she'll be right mate' approach. However, jumping into something without thinking about the consequences is a big safety risk. The best farming organisations put safety first. This means having ongoing conversations about identifying and eliminating or minimising risk. These conversations should occur at all levels, from upper management to frontline operators. Aside from being the right thing to do, prevention is cheaper than a safety-related incident.
  2. Follow the guides

    There is a lot of guidance freely available, including Government department publications, including Codes of Practice (Codes). In addition, organisations such as Farmsafe Australia provide a range of resources including farm safety guides, which cover a wide range of topics. We strongly advise you read and follow the applicable Codes and guides. If you do depart from these Codes and guides for whatever reason and there is a safety incident you can be assured that you will need a sound justification for doing so as part of any ensuing prosecution.
  3. Administrative controls are not enough

    While work health and safety policies and procedures are important, they are not enough. We see many organisations with solid administrative controls in place fall victim to workplace incidents because they do not have appropriate engineering or other controls in place. This might include isolating and shutting off power sources for equipment when it is being serviced by a worker.
  4. Train and empower your supervisors

    Your supervisors are the crucial factor to ensure your workforce are safe and protected. They should be well trained and set a consistently good example for your workers. They need to foster an open culture where safety is concerned and address questions, and issues as soon as possible to ensure risk is effectively mitigated.

    It is important that supervisors engage and discipline workers around safety risk. Breaches should not be tolerated and skylarking disciplined appropriately. The law holds you to a high standard so you need to hold your supervisors and workers to a level that will let you meet that standard.
  5. Play it safe with quad bikes

    Quad bikes are the biggest cause of death on Australian farms, with 22 quad bike-related deaths in Australia last year alone. More than half of these deaths are due to being crushed or asphyxiated by a bike that has rolled, so invest in a rollover protection device and don't ignore the basic safety essentials – helmets must always be worn, passengers are not allowed on single-user vehicles and riders must be appropriately trained and at least 16 years old.

    Even more effective is considering the use of safer vehicles such as a side-by-side vehicle or a small utility vehicle. Consider the alternative long-term cost of a safety related incident, which includes lost time, workcover claims and even prosecutions.
  6. Consider the language barrier for foreign workers

    A recent Queensland prosecution involved an organisation which was fined for failing to have appropriate safety documentation available in the language of a foreign worker. This was despite their safety induction being assisted by a translator. If you have foreign workers, make sure they have adequate training, access to appropriate documentation that they can understand and systems in place that will facilitate the ability for foreign workers to freely ask questions and raise concerns.
  7. Do you need to vaccinate?

    An Australian Q Fever vaccine is available and recommended for people who work regularly with, or are at risk of exposure from, potentially infectious animals or materials. This includes abattoir workers, farmers, shearers, veterinary professionals, agricultural college staff and students, kangaroo shooters, tanners, tradesmen who visit abattoirs, laundry staff who clean clothing from abattoirs, and many others. If your workers are undertaking any of these activities, as an employer you must provide appropriate protective measures, which will include vaccination where required and be able to be implemented.
  8. Label hazardous chemicals

    There is now a globally harmonised system of labelling hazardous chemicals that is now in force in Queensland. Ensure that your workplace has the appropriate labelling which is available here.
  9. Don't risk it. Fix and repair immediately

    If a piece of plant or equipment is not working and could cause significant safety risk, work must stop immediately and the item repaired. The regulator will not tolerate any breaches of safety if an item was known to be faulty, creating a safety risk and work still progressed. Workers and supervisors must be trained in this, and understand that the implications for any safety incident far outweigh immediate productivity gains.
  10. Share the knowledge

    Volvo gave away what is arguably the most important safety invention - the seatbelt. They did this because it was morally right and knew that it would save millions of lives many times over. As farm owners and operators you (and your workers) know ways to prevent injury or death. We encourage you to share this knowledge with others so they too can protect their workforce.

    All farms are different, including their hazards and the way risks are controlled so general guidelines can only help so much. If you are unsure about your rights, obligations and duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) or Regulations and Codes of Practice, we encourage you to seek legal advice.

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