Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes has established a Farm Safety Council, to provide advice to the Victorian Government and agricultural sector about reducing injuries and deaths of people on farms in Victoria. The Council will also provide guidance on the activities that could be prioritised by government to make farms safer and change safety culture, ultimately reducing the number of deaths and injuries on farms. “Farms continue to be one of the deadliest workplaces, so it’s important that we use the stories and information given to us through this Council to make sure every person on a farm gets home from work safely,” said Jill Hennessy, Victorian Minister for Workplace Safety.
The agriculture sector reportedly makes up less than 3% of the Victorian workforce, but more than 30% of workplace deaths. Victorians who live in or interact with a farm, including children, suppliers and contractors, can also be at risk of an unsafe workplace. Symes emphasised the importance of finding solutions to keep people safe, as six people have died while working on a farm, in the past five months. “We want our farms to be safe places for those who live, work or visit them,” Symes said. “The advice provided by the Farm Safety Council will guide industry and government on what can be done to make farms safer.”
The Council includes members from Kidsafe Victoria, National Centre for Farmer Health, Victorian Agriculture Horticulture and Conservation Training Network, Australian Workers’ Union, Victorian Farmers Federation, United Workers Union, WorkSafe Victoria, Department of Health and Human Services, Agriculture Victoria and the Department of Education and Training. The Council also creates links with other programs that focus on the safety, health and wellbeing of farmers and their families. This includes the $6 million Quad Bike Rebate Scheme, mental health support provided through drought and bushfire recovery, and industry-led services such as Dairy Australia’s farm safety programs. The Council is part of the Victorian Government’s $20 million Smarter, Safer Farms program and an election commitment to make farms safer, which address skills and safety issues in the agriculture sector.
20–25 July was Farm Safety Week nationally, and WorkSafe Victoria took the opportunity to focus on the problem of fatigue in the sector. It is a problem that, according to WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen, goes beyond just feeling drowsy. “It’s about pushing our bodies beyond their mental and physical limits day after day, with no time to recover,” Nielsen said. “When you think this could be someone operating heavy machinery or dealing with unpredictable livestock, the consequences of fatigue can be deadly.” Other jurisdictions also took the opportunity during Farm Safety Week to highlight their own farm safety initiatives.
As most of the state’s farming events have been cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the New South Wales Government (NSW Government) used the occasion to launch a new virtual platform designed to ensure that agricultural workers still have access to safety training. “This week is Farm Safety Week, and as we go into harvesting season it’s important to be aware of additional risks to those working in the agriculture sector that need to be properly managed,” said NSW Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson on 24 July.
“We have developed the Virtual Farm Safety Experience so that even during these times, people working in agriculture still have the tools and skills necessary to do their job with minimal risk,” Anderson said. “COVID-19 has cancelled many face-to-face agriculture events, but by using technology we can replicate a farm safety day and ensure farmers can still have interactive conversations and training sessions with industry experts.” A $500 small business rebate is available to eligible attendees as well as the state’s quad bike rebates, on completion. The ‘Virtual Farm Safety’ training is hosted here, on the SafeWork NSW website.
SafeWork South Australia (SafeWork SA) drew attention to mental health issues as part of its response to Farm Safety Week. With male farm owners and managers committing suicide at approximately twice the rate of the national average of other males, SafeWork SA called on business and industry to work together through innovation and improved attention to health and safety outcomes that will help increase the wellbeing of Australian farmers. The regulator directed those in its state to resources that include: farm safety videos that can be watched with children, farm chemical safety information and its ‘Farmers’ guidebook to work health and safety’.
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