Being a farmer definitely takes multi-tasking to the next level. The job title generally includes vet, animal midwife, machinery operator, mechanic, horticulturist, plumber, accountant, the list is endless (any farmers reading this article may want to remind your other half of this next time they’re nagging you about cleaning up around the house). But it’s also the need to have such a broad skill set that makes farming one of the most deadly occupations in Australia.
The stats on farm safety
The Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety recently released statistics for 2016 that revealed there were 63 farm injury deaths last year. With close to 40% of these fatalities resulting from using farm machinery, quad bikes and tractors.
While this is down on the previous year, where 73 fatalities from farming related accidents were recorded, the figure is still far too high and greatly exceeded the deaths in mining and construction over the same period.
University of Sydney Honorary Associate Professor, Dr Tony Lower, is a leading spokesperson for farm safety. As Professor Lower explained in an interview with Beef Central:
“These figures represent a slight decrease on last year but sadly we know that each case brings significant impacts for families and communities… This sounds a warning bell that there really is a need to fast-track improvements.”
In 2016 there were also 85 non-fatal accidents. While these weren’t fatalities, many of these accidents often result in physical and emotional scars that don’t heal.
Why is farming so dangerous?
Farming isn’t for the faint-hearted, with a combination of long hours and regular use of a range of different tools and machinery, which is where the danger lies. The cost involved in hiring specialists in these areas often leads to farmers taking it into their own hands to do the research and undertake the tasks themselves.
While most farmers do have specialisations, whether this is beef, wool, dairy or crop production, it’s not possible to have extensive knowledge in every facet of farming. Being flexible is crucial to having a career as a farmer, which often means changing specialisations depending on the economic climate; for example if wool prices drop then focusing on meat production. With this in mind, having to juggle these challenges puts a lot of pressure on farmers who face a constant battle to ensure their farms stay profitable.
While it is obviously essential for farms to maintain their long-term profitability, it’s vital to ensure safety isn’t disregarded in the process. Avoiding risks where possible is crucial, especially when working with farm machinery or equipment, as this is where many of the casualties occur.
What can farmers do to improve safety?
Dr Lower believes the best way to confront the issue with farming related deaths is with safety planning. In his interview with Beef Central, Dr Lower offered the following suggestion:
“Planning for safety in the same way that your plan for your crops or stock will go a long way to reducing these incidents and the impacts they have not just on individuals, but also families and whole communities.”
Farmsafe Australia provides some great resources on improving farm safety, as well as related facts and statistics. Safe Work Australia also has a farm safety guide, which offers valuable tips on improvements that can be made around the farm to help avid accidents and fatalities.