Shawn Kleinschmidt: A champion for communication to support farm safety

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Queensland based cropping and beef cattle farmer, Shawn Kleinschmidt is quick to admit lack of communication was a key factor in losing his right lower leg in a farming incident. Since then, he’s made a point of being the first to reach out, get on the UHF, call a mate or neighbour to ask for help when it’s needed.

Stories like Shawn’s and the lessons learned are increasingly important to share in the context of the alarming growth of farm related deaths and injuries, as highlighted in the latest Non-intentional Farm Related Incidents in Australia report by AgHealth Australia.

AgHealth Australia, with funding from AgriFutures Australia, has been leading research into deaths and injuries on farm since 2004, providing the most comprehensive evidence for awareness and prevention to enhance the safety and wellbeing of people in Australian agriculture.

From 1 January to 31 December 2022, 55 on-farm deaths were reported, in the corresponding period for 2021, there were 46 cases. For 2022, tractors and quad bike accidents were the most frequent, and males were involved in 93% of cases. There were also an additional 158 non-fatal on-farm industries reported.

Practical tips to prevent near misses 

While the 2022 statistics paint a grim picture of the risks involved in agricultural work, it’s people like Shawn who are a driving force behind farm safety messages and strategies to help prevent near misses in the future.

“I was on an old ag bike (two wheeler) in the cane field, I came around a blind corner and we didn’t see each other until it was too late,” Shawn explained.

“Ever since the accident, and to be honest, even before, communication was always front of mind. If I was hunting, I would be constantly on the phone telling the farmer where I was. The stakes were far too high if something were to go wrong.”

For Shawn, the number of tractor related incidents noted didn’t come as a surprise, he’s heard one too many stories involving workers falling asleep at the wheel so strategies to mitigate this risk are high on his agenda.

“Fatigue management is huge, there’s so much pressure on farmers particularly at harvest when you’re doing the big hours, more incidents are likely,” Shawn said.

“Where I work, we partner people up at night, they call each other to check in and if something happens you get on the UHF. We work as a team, we stick together and watch out for each other.”

Shawn also points out getting to know your machinery can really help. “I was a tractor mechanic and grew up around tractors, but people don’t like to read manuals anymore. Knowing the ins and outs of the machine and how they work can help avoid accidents.”

Promoting new ways of working 

The statistics are overwhelmingly male dominated, and Shawn can see the gender disparity clearly. “Most of us (males) are stubborn as mules, women definitely think things through more than men. That said I also see a generational gap, in that people, like my dad, never had to deal with work health and safety (WHS) in the way we do now – but that’s a good thing.”

Shawn has had his fair share of bust ups over the years and knows that a lot of accidents happen due to being alone on farm. Losing a leg (and the expensive prosthetic) has made him rethink what he’s doing, the importance of asking for help and looking after yourself.

His message for others working in agriculture when it comes to farm safety?

“Some things you can’t avoid, and there will be situations where you don’t have an extra set of hands, but communication is key. If you have to be out on the farm by yourself, let someone know,” Shawn said.

“A simple message like ‘if you haven’t heard from me, come looking for me’ can make all the difference. There’s nothing wrong with regularly checking in and asking for help.”

Learn more about the latest statistics in the 2022 report Non-intentional Farm Related Incidents in Australia

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