Farm safety statistics improve, but there is no room for complacency

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John Harvey, Managing Director, AgriFutures Australia

Managing Director of AgriFutures Australia, John Harvey, says a safety mindset needs to remain front and centre across Australia’s agricultural sector.

The latest farm safety data has revealed that incidents of on-farm deaths in Australia have decreased by 20 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020.

These results reflect the hard work undertaken across the sector – everything from new regulations, research and development, technological innovations and safety role models – all of which contributes to a stronger safety culture overall. However, this doesn’t mean it is time for us to get complacent.

The annual report prepared by AgHealth Australia, funded by AgriFutures Australia, Non-intentional Farm Related Incidents in Australia 2021, reported a total of 46 on-farm deaths in the period 1 January to 31 December 2021, compared to 58 on-farm deaths in the corresponding period for 2020.

Tractors, quad bikes and side-by-sides were the three most frequently reported agents of injury, collectively accounting for 56 per cent of the total on-farm deaths. Quad bike deaths are reported to have decreased between 2020 and 2021 (from 14 to 9 incidents), however the number of incidents involving tractors and side-by-sides have remained very similar.

Age is another factor that it is important to track with farm safety statistics, and in 2021 it was reported that 27 fatalities were people aged 45 years and over and six were children aged 14 years and under. This compares to 36 fatalities in the over 45 age category and eight in the 14 years and underage category in the previous year.

While it is encouraging to see the statistics heading in the right direction, we can’t lose sight of the most important picture, which is that the statistics aren’t just numbers, they represent human lives lost and the devasting impact that loss has across our farming communities. One life lost on-farm is one life too many.

It is my view that if we are going to see further improvements in farm safety data, we need to keep talking about it. Safety should be the first agenda item at every meeting, and that includes calling out incidents that have occurred, talking about near misses, identifying risks for upcoming activities, and ensuring all concerns are raised and addressed. We must build a philosophy into all our businesses where safety comes first, every time. It’s about establishing a culture across the sector that says the way we work; we look after ourselves and each other.

This is why the Rural Safety and Health Alliance (RSHA) exists as a collaborative Rural Research and Development Corporation effort led by AgriFutures Australia, and why it continues to work very hard to improve the health and safety performance of Australia’s rural industries.

The hard truth is that accidents and injuries are often preventable, and work health and safety (WHS) is a challenge common across Australian agriculture. We may be making progress but there is still a long way to go until we are reporting zero deaths and zero emotional devastation from non-intentional farm injuries across Australia. The onus is on each of us to start our day knowing we have done and will continue to do all we can to ensure that we keep ourselves, our families and our employees safe from harm at work.

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