Safe Work Australia’s statistics show that the death rate is higher for people working in Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing than in other industries – and this has been the case for two decades.
For many agricultural industries, the majority of fatalities are associated with use of mobile plant. Previous RSHA research showed that:
- Tractors, farm vehicles (quads, utes, motorbikes) and other mobile plant accounted for 48% of fatalities in the agricultural sector.
- Half of the fatalities occurred during activities related to stock work (mustering, inspecting, feeding, watering, etc) and during machinery maintenance.
- Mobile plant is also the lead agent of serious injury (recorded in Workers’ compensation data) in cropping industries of grain, cotton and fodder.
- Fatigue is a key risk factor.
Regulations under Work Health and Safety Acts in each state and territory spell out the legal minimum requirements for addressing hazards and work practices associated with the health, safety and welfare of all workers. Codes of Practice provide practical guides to achieving the standards of safety required for many of the common types of mobile plant. The fatality rate in agriculture shows that these requirements are not always being met.
Large advances in risk mitigation are made when equipment is commissioned with enhanced safety features (‘80% of risk mitigation opportunities occur at purchase’). Unlike the mining or logistics sectors, farms replace machinery relatively slowly and often have a wide mix of older and newer mobile plant in use.
Australian agriculture has many thousands of small and medium sized businesses where much of the work is done by owners, family members and small numbers of employees. There are also some larger corporate entities with bigger workforces. In this research project our interest spans this range of farm businesses, with particular interest in small to medium farm businesses.
One of the key influences behind safety practices is the way a business thinks about safety – its safety culture. This refers to the values and beliefs embraced by the business and is characterised as ‘the way we do things around here’. Organisations with a positive safety culture have the systems and capability to actively identify and manage risks. Its hallmarks are strong leadership (‘walking the talk’), mutual accountability for everyone’s safety and transparent reporting.