Farming is an economically and culturally important part of life in Australia and many Australians are directly or indirectly involved in farming. For those Australians not involved with farming, the country’s recent rural and agricultural history still has strong links to the heritage and culture of Australia.
Agriculture is an important sector for the Australian economy, generating up to $39 billion in gross value each year and employing around 370,000 people across the country. Although agriculture is not as extensive as at its peak in the mid 1970s, farms still take up around sixty per cent of all the land in Australia. Livestock grazing activity, mainly sheep and cattle, take up the most land in Australian agriculture.
Living and working on a farm might sound like a wholesome existence, but only driving a truck and working in an underground mine are more dangerous. A study by the Queensland Division of Workplace Health and Safety, found that after the mining and transport industries, people working in agriculture have the highest risk of work-related deaths and injuries.
In Australia, there are about 85 farm injury deaths per year and for every 1000 farms, between 200 and 600 injuries need hospital treatment each year. However, that is probably a small portion of the total number of injuries that occur. There are many injuries including back injuries, cuts and fractures which are not reported to hospitals, workers’ compensation sources or insurance providers. It’s been estimated that agricultural injuries in Australia cost the farm sector a minimum of $400 million per year. And that’s a conservative estimate. The Australian Safety and Compensation Council estimates the true cost could be between $0.5 and $1.29 billion per annum.
Studies have shown that the most common types of farm enterprises where fatal accidents occurred were in producing:
1. cereal grains, sheep, cattle, and pigs
2. cattle for meat
3. sheep for meat and wool
Causes of farm-related injuries include:
- riding animals
- riding motorcycles
- riding agricultural vehicles
- using agricultural machinery
Ways to reduce injuries include:
- eliminating potential risks by substituting less hazardous equipment, or less toxic chemicals.
- modifying equipment to make it safer (fitting roll-over protection and seatbelts to tractors,
- training staff in safety practices and providing them with safety equipment such as goggles or a breathing apparatus.
- putting systems in place to deal with injury (first aid, injury management, and rehabilitation programs for instance).
- monitoring the health of workers.
- keeping occupational health and safety records on hazardous substances, training of workers, and workplace accidents and injuries.
- keeping all equipment in good repair.
Farmers have to perform a wide range of tasks under varying conditions in the course of a working day, and across the seasons. The work is often undertaken alone, with some forces not under the farmer’s control like weather, or the behaviour of animals. Farm work is often undertaken at ‘rush’ times, where the work such as harvesting or shearing can’t be delayed without loss of income.
Across all systems of agricultural production, the key hazards associated with preventable on-farm death and severe injuries have been defined as:
- Vehicles – principally tractors, and especially those without roll-over protection. A tractor death occurs every 11 days on a farm somewhere in Australia. Falls from motorbikes are also a significant cause of injury and death.
- Machinery – much of farming involves machinery to do the harvesting, cropping, running of feedlot systems, harvesting, milking. The machinery is often complex, involves moving parts.
- Water – especially dams, but also lakes, ponds, rivers and creeks. These are often unfenced and are especially dangerous to unsupervised children also.
- Animals – resulting in manual injuries from handling, transmissible diseases, or injuries inflicted by bites or kicks. Falls from horses are also a significant cause of injury and death.
Other frequent hazards include:
- Hazardous substances – including pesticides and herbicides, which can cause burns or poisoning.
- Electricity – including faulty switches or cords, or overhead power lines.
- Heights – including ladders, rooftops, silos and windmills.
- Confined spaces – including silos, water tanks and manure pits that may produce poisonous gases.
- Noise – including noise from livestock and machinery.
- Weather – including sunburn and heat stroke.
Care is needed when storing, transporting, using and disposing of chemicals to ensure personal safety and that of the environment. Any chemical should be treated with extreme caution, since vapours or direct exposure can lead to a variety of health effects. Hazardous substances are required by law to include a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and label. An MSDS should include: product name, contacts for the supplier, physical descriptions/properties, information on how to store and handle the material, advice on first aid and spills and disposal and precautions for use. If a hazardous substance is found without a label it should not be used until the substance is identified. To further reduce the risks, it is worth remembering that hazardous chemicals can occasionally be replaced with less toxic options. Sometimes, a safer form of the product is available – for example, pellets instead of powder.
Commonly used agricultural chemicals include:
- Aluminium phosphide
- Organophosphorus pesticides
- Methyl bromide Strychnine
Side effects of exposure
The effects of chemical exposure depend on the type of chemical and the degree of exposure. Injury can occur through absorption into the skin, inhalation, contamination and through swallowing. If chemicals are swallowed, splashed onto the skin or inhaled as a vapour or dust, some of the immediate and long term effects can include:
- sweating or drooling
- pin point pupils
- stomach cramps
- chest pains
- blurred vision
- chemical Burns
- nervous system disorders
- skin and respiratory disease
- loss of consciousness
- skin rashes and irritation
- birth defects
- diseases of the lungs, liver or kidneys
Safe storage of chemicals
Safe storage of chemicals is important in any industry, however in the agriculture and rural industry there are factors such as children and animals to consider. Suggestions for the safe storage of chemicals include:
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper storage.
- Keep chemicals in their original containers and dont decant into smaller bottles.
- Do not remove labels from containers and never put chemicals into an unmarked bottle or a bottled labelled for a different substance.
- Store chemicals in a well ventilated shed, fitted with locks and floors that will not allow seepage.
- Keep chemicals away from protective equipment.
- Separate different classes of chemicals to prevent reactions.
- Store animal feeds, seeds and fertilisers separately from chemicals.
- Have mop-up materials on hand, such as sand or soil.
- Keep ignition sources well away from chemicals.
- Keep a record of the chemicals you buy, store, use and replace.
- Used chemicals should never be returned to the original container.
- Use suitable PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) when handling or moving chemicals.
Safe transport of chemicals
Suggestions for the safe transporting of chemicals include:
- Transport chemicals separately from food, water, animal feeds, seeds and fertilisers.
- Secure your load.
- Carry a written record of the chemicals you are transporting.
- Take all appropriate protective gear along with you.
- If you are using large amounts of chemicals (more than 100kg) a response plan should be coordinated with local Emergency Services.
Tractors alone cause around 11 per cent of workplace deaths in Australia. A tractor can roll over and crush the driver; hands, hair and clothing can be caught by unguarded power take-off shafts and people can be injured by front-end loaders, falls from a moving tractor or being struck by its wheels. These types of accidents can be prevented by keeping the tractor in good repair, fitting safety equipment (such as guards, safe access platforms and roll-over protection) and by operating the tractor safely at all times.
FLIPPING AND HITCHING
- A tractor may flip or overturn if not hitched correctly. All tractors by law must be fitted with Roll Over Protection Structures (ROPS).
- Never use a tractor that is not fitted with ROPS.
- Always fit attachments according to the manufacturers instructions using the draw bar or correct mounting points never improvise.
- Never hitch above the centreline of the rear axle, around the axle housing, or to the top of the link pin.
- When reversing the tractor to the implement to be hitched, ensure that other people who may be assisting are well clear.
- Never use three-point linkages when there is someone between the tractor and the implement, and lower all implements and fork lifts when not in use.
- When pulling heavy loads, such as pulling a bogged vehicle clear, it is safer to use reverse gear and hitch to the front drawbar.
RUN OVER BY TRACTOR
Operators who get on or off moving tractors are at high risk of being run over. Tractors are designed for single operators, and passengers are also at high risk of falling off a moving tractor.
- Never get on or off a moving tractor, no matter how slow it is moving. Modify the task to remove the need for frequent stopping and dismounting.
- Never carry passengers on tractors, especially children, unless they have a separate seat.
- Wear sturdy, non-slip footwear.
- If the engine is still running when getting off a tractor, ensure the park brake is on, the gear lever is in neutral, and take care not to hit the gear levers with a foot when getting on or off.
- Never start a tractor from on the ground.
- Fit an approved Safe Tractor Access Platform (STAP).
Many companies have been found in breach of their OHS obligations to employees.
Take an informative look at the successful convictions by SafeWork SA located on the SafeWork website.
Dairy Safety Brochure from WorkSafe Victoria
Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal
ABC Health and Wellbeing – www.abc.net.au/health/
Australian approaches to the prevention of farm injury
Department of Human Services: Victoria – www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
Safework SA –www.safework.sa.gov.au